Internships: The Good, The Bad & The Value (Part 2 of 2)

Written by Paige Dawson

In my last blog, I shared my background on internships over 20 + years as well as Ten Tips for Interns. This blog post will cover Ten Tips for Employers who hire and manage interns.

Ten Tips for Employers:

  1. Don’t rely on the resume or interview alone, sometimes the sizzle is better than the steak. Some of our best interns were timid, shy or nervous during the interview; for some, it was their first foray into a “real business job.” And some of our more lackluster interns had a great resume or interview style but lacked the tactical skills when put to the test. Certainly your ability to ascertain skills and internship fit strengthen over time. A few aspects that I consider in evaluating interns include:
    • Their communication skills during the process to submit their resume, coordinate the interview, and follow-up post interview. The interplay during this exchange provides great insight into how the potential intern might work with our team, clients, media and partners.
    • Their overall GPA, outside activities, and references provide a good snapshot of ability to follow directions, retain information, play well with others, maintain energy, and build relationships.
    • Their social media presence and personality can really make or break the interview. In our case, we want social media savvy interns as we handle social media for clients. We also want interns with the wisdom, values and common sense to know what is inappropriate to post.
  2. Assume that they know nothing going in. As we’ve done many of these tasks for years, decades, even in our sleep, we often don’t consider the small aspects. These teaching moments have involved everything from how do you properly answer the phone (yes, really) to when to use group, CC, BCC, or multiple individual emails. We’ve created many a process document as a result and have onboarding steps and training for every intern.
  3. Set expectations early, provide correction often. Again, we’ve learned much over 20 years. We start every internship with several training sessions the first week. We cover the tactical of how to answer the phone, log time for client projects, access and use email, and then move on to the actual client-related work training. As this is often the first time an intern will be exposed to certain tasks, we anticipate and welcome questions along the way. And, we expect that we’ll almost always have corrections and improvement tips. We also expect retention of our training.
  4. Have the hard discussions. In a similar vein as providing correction, you also have to be very candid and not sugarcoat a situation. If a project isn’t correct or behavior isn’t appropriate, sit down and discuss it as soon as possible. If it recurs, consider if the person is a fit or not and take action. We’ve had one chronically tardy intern who was relieved of her role early. And, this one was hard, we had one intern who had a great attitude and interest in our line of work, but just continued to deliver work riddled with mistakes despite repeated counsel.
  5. Push their skills. We’ve been pleasantly surprised before when we give interns tough assignments to write something, conduct research, or create a presentation. While it most likely won’t be 100% or exactly how you would have created the material, other times it will be remarkable. In the case where the deliverable is less than stellar, I apply the time to MPD admin and not our client. The care and responsibility of both grooming the next generation and also being a good steward of our clients’ budgets means being astute enough and having enough integrity to apply training for interns to MPD where it belongs versus to client accounts.
    • We empowered one intern to own a client’s social media posts; he delivered creative, stellar, funny, spot-on content. AND, he took the initiative to preschedule out two entire months of content to post after he departed. (Ah, Marc Bullard…we miss you.)
  6. Take them to client meetings. In our case, interns are mostly in the office and handling computer-based research, tracking, editing, or admin tasks. It’s very quiet and “in the weeds” work. Whenever schedules allow, I try to take an intern to client meetings so that they may see how companies operate and the various dynamics and culture of each. (NOTE: I always ask for client permission in advance to bring along an intern to watch and learn. And, I always apply that time to MPD admin and not a client.)
  7. Invite them to your brainstorming sessions and internal meetings. As a marketing and PR firm, we often collaborate in the office and over the phone with our internal team. We also conduct weekly staff meetings. These internal meetings provide an intern with great firsthand experience in how the real process of creating a brand, developing a marketing campaign, or growing thought leadership in PR really works. As you might guess, we apply that time to our own MPD admin codes versus client codes.
  8. Make them feel welcome and celebrate their milestones. As a small office, we are big on celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and key company achievements. We extend that courtesy to our interns as well and try to celebrate in some way their first and/or last day with us with a treat or meal, depending on when the intern works. As well, if it’s a team-based celebration, we include the intern in the activity if it during their normal working period with us.
  9. Thank them and offer assistance at the end. Certainly, this last tip and the level of effort will vary based on the intern’s performance. We always verbally thank them and offer to review their resume. We’ve sometimes volunteered to be references, connect on LinkedIn or make introductions. It’s always fun to see where former interns land and how they progress in their careers….and to keep tabs as there are a couple I would welcome back to our fold at any time.
  10. Remember that you were young and inexperienced once. This last tip really encompasses each of the ones prior. We’ve all been there at one time and probably keenly remember when our early employers provided guidance and direction, both good (supportive and confidence-building) and bad (critical and defeating) techniques.
    • I recall quite clearly drafting what I thought were stellar articles, only to have Merrie Spaeth (my first full-time employer) mark them up with an abundance of red pen edits, but also with the notation that this was a “great start, thanks”. Of course, her edits made the pieces sing. I was in awe of that type of skill and also shocked that my writing paled in comparison (oh, my young, naïve ego). Fast forward 20 years, and I’m the one with the red pen…or in today’s world track changes mode. In marketing and PR, the candid, constructive critique has made so many of us better professionals.

It’s incumbent upon us as the senior professionals to counsel and grow the next generation with the proper balance of respect with reality.

On a happy note, our MPD summer interns—Hayley and Preston—have either read our first blog post of 10 Tips for Interns or are just that amazing. We’ll be sad for summer to end. If you are seeking a Fall/Spring internship or know of a great individual to recommend, please contact us.

About Paige Dawson

With expertise in marketing, business strategy and public relations, as well as ‘in the trenches’ experience as a business owner, Paige Dawson brings a unique blend of talent to clients. As president and founder of MPD Ventures Company, Paige works with executives and entrepreneurs throughout the country to develop key messages, marketing strategies and measurable campaigns, driven by client business goals. She has extensive experience providing counsel for professional service firms, technology companies, associations and nonprofits.