By Jackie Liu
The upside to hiring summer interns, young people with a desire to learn the PR trade and gain the necessary experience in order to find full-time employment, has been well documented. But there seems to be a significant disparity in resources available for employers with tips and advice in how best to manage said interns, regardless of whether it is a promising high school student with an aptitude for video editing or an entire office full of college seniors with nothing but a pipe dream.
A simple Google search reveals millions of excellent online resources and tips for prospective employees to help make the most of their time (“How to be a rock star at your internship this summer!”) but those that are aimed at employers are decidedly less upbeat and more stale (“Three tips for effectively managing interns”).
While these types of articles are utilitarian and straightforward, they tend to leave out the human element—which is to say that these are human relationships, which are inherently complex and no two are the same. It is simply not enough, nor is it effective, to stick a bunch of humans in one room and assign them to menial tasks of no value.
A summer internship has the potential to be equally beneficial for both parties. As an example at our own agency, this is a wonderful way to allow younger staff to grow into becoming better managers and supervisors.
With a little more less than two months left in the summer, this may be an excellent time to (re)-evaluate the working relationship you currently have with your interns, and consider these five ways to ensure you and your intern have a mutually beneficial, educational and productive experience:
Set clear expectations for the duration of their employment.
Nearly all companies conduct an introductory orientation meeting for new hires to get them acquainted with workplace policies. This is the perfect opportunity for both employer and employee to ask questions and leave with a clear understanding of expectations during business hours. Interns should not be exempt from this step. By accepting an internship, he or she enters into a mutually binding agreement with non-ambiguous conditions of employment.
Does this sound overly serious? Well, shouldn’t the intern get used to life in the real world?
Empower them to work independently and exercise good judgment.
There is a difference between overseeing an intern and micromanaging. Supervisors must carefully consider the types of assignments they assign, as well as the quality of work they’re looking for. Does the intern possess a “can do” attitude and volunteer for projects? Can you assign them to research a certain topic, and then take the next step and write a press release as well? Are they extremely proficient at Photoshop and therefore able to make a significant contribution to an important project? Empowering an employee to take control of a project, whatever the size, is a powerful indicator of trust and higher expectations.
Assign a variety of tasks and responsibilities.
You can be certain that your intern, particularly one still attending school, is probably already highly proficient at using Snapchat and Instagram. Consider finding opportunities to assign them different tasks outside of their comfort zone. Challenge them to find the discipline to do things you know they won’t enjoy doing. But most importantly, aim to assign tasks that will prove to be valuable in the long run and can be included in their resume or online portfolio.
Encourage them to think and act like PR professionals after work hours.
Try as we might, it is virtually impossible for those of us in this profession to go home and shut off our smartphones, turn off our TVs and block out the constant stream of news that we consume through so many different channels. The reality of the business dictates a 24-7 (maybe 18-7 to allow for some sleep?) news monitoring lifestyle. Engage your intern in daily discussions about current events and pop culture, and encourage them to get their news from as many different news sources as possible.
Aim for excellence over respectability
Interns will ultimately “grade” employers on the quality of their experience, from the perks and amenities to the rigor of their workload, which is no different than how our clients evaluate our work on a daily basis. Building a reputation for an internship program and experience is hard work because, frankly, it is work. It requires communication and managing expectations and counseling them on effective PR strategy…. Sound familiar? So why offer anything less than a five star experience when your daily philosophy is to under-promise and over-deliver to your clients?