Whether or not you've seen the movies “The Intern” (starring Robert De Niro) or “The Internship” (starring Vince Vaughn), you know one thing is for certain: Experience never gets old. In both of these Hollywood films, the main characters try to get back into the workforce in varying industries. The interns are slightly older than what you would normally expect, but, nonetheless, they prove that interns are an important and integral part of a successful business.
In the movies, we are taught that senior interns bring privilege, experience and, above all else, wisdom. But for those college students just starting out, what should they be prepared for?
Internships are defined simply as: “The position of a student or trainee who works in an organization, sometimes without pay, in order to gain work experience or satisfy requirements for a qualification.” While this definition is accurate, it doesn’t mention the fact that interns are the unsung heroes of any organization. Oftentimes they are assigned menial tasks, treated unfairly and, in some cases, an internship can actually cost them money rather than make them any.
On the flip side, the right internship can help a student gain confidence, learn new skills and acquire real-world experience, all while building a network of business contacts. Not to mention, a solid internship does wonders for their résumés. The graduate job market is extremely competitive, so having some type of real-world experience gives students a step up on the competition. The more internships completed, the more attractive a candidate looks to employers.
When it comes to finding the prospective interns, what do employers look for?
Andrew Lovell, senior associate director of Industry Relations at Temple University, works exclusively to bring industry professionals and connections to the university. He believes the most important qualities of an intern are: “having strong communication skills, showing professionalism, being consistent and having a positive attitude/approach.” Lovell works with many students and employers through the university. “There are up to nine different ways an industry partner can engage with our program,” he says. “I assist students most directly in bringing these connections to the forefront through their time at STHM [School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management], and I also provide regular oneon-one advising during their internship/job preparation, search and evaluation.”
Similarly, Marc Kaminetsky, director of sales at Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board, says they look for, “confidence, passion, professionalism and a strong work ethic. Here at the Tourism & Convention Board we want our interns to be an extension of our efforts. We value their experiences and ideas, while enjoying a new set of eyes,” he says. In essence, education will get a student through the door, but it’s personality, experience and overall character that make a successful intern. “Typically, successful interns bring their life experiences to our office environment. This helps us look at things from a different point of view,” says Kaminetsky
A FRESH PERSPECTIVE
Speaking of a different point of view, it’s important for businesses to recognize the know-how that younger employees and interns bring to a team. Most, if not all, industries have gone digital and our younger peers are the ones leading us to the next level. They live and breathe technology and are able to keep up and adapt to the ever-changing pace of this new world.
Along with these specialized strengths, interns challenge the status quo and can often inspire fresh new ideas in brainstorming sessions and meetings. That’s why it’s important to give interns real, meaningful work that will not only lead to the company’s success, but also build interns’ confidence and skills.
Employing an intern can bring many benefits to a business, as interns come with a raw, untainted background and the desire to create their own footprint in the business. They constantly hear about making it in the “real world,” so when interns step into the corporate environment, they want to prove to everyone, and mostly themselves, that they can keep up and excel. They’re determined to succeed, which directly affects the quality of work they’ll do.
MENTORING & TRAINING
According to Monster.com, 85 percent of companies use internships to recruit for fulltime roles. This essentially means employers are training potential future employees. It’s important to give interns ownership over a project and task them with more than just making coffee and copies. “We give all of our interns at least one large project. This could be anything from creating a marketing strategy or developing a new app to holding a client event. Projects like these give the intern something to not only create, but to see the project to its completion,” says Kaminetsky.
Cassandra Ball, a former intern at Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board, thinks back to her internship experience: “I was able to see not only how my department operated, but the entire company. During the weekly company-wide meetings, I was able to learn the day-to-day tasks for each member of the team. It provided great insight to the operations of each department and how they coordinated their efforts.”
Showing interns the ropes benefits not only the intern, but also the mentor. Mentoring a student should take a lot of time and thought. Before even hiring an intern, make sure to have his or her duties laid out and construct a well-organized plan. Think about what you want them to accomplish, what skills you’ll need to teach them and figure out whether these responsibilities are actually valuable. Scheduling regular check-ins with your intern will make them feel part of the team and ensure that the mentor adds his/her expertise and feedback into the conversation, helping them to learn and grow.
Furthermore, internships should be viewed as a win-win situation for everyone involved. Interns and their employers should treat this experience as a “test drive” or a trial period that could lead to something more. Ball adds, “You never know for sure if you’re going to like something until you do it. My prior experiences solidified my decision to go into tourism research. It was somewhat of a relief to realize I genuinely liked the work I was doing. It let me know I was on the right path.”
BUILDING RELATIONSHIP S & GIVING BACK
Enlisting interns from colleges in the area can help to build a strong network of contacts and partnerships with local colleges and universities. Programs, like the one Lovell manages at Temple University, provide access to the top students. Those students will talk about company brands to other students; this word of mouth could mean more potential employees.
Another beneficial aspect of hiring interns locally is the giving-back aspect. Small local businessesrely on the community for support; by hiring interns, these companies are helping to strengthen the local workforce while also getting students started in their careers.
Having interns on board is a great way for a company to get candid feedback about its day-to-day operations and the corporate culture in general. Before an internship is complete, it’s beneficial to give the intern an exit interview or survey to learn as much as possible. It’s a good way for the intern to reflect on their experience, while getting feedback from someone who has been working from the ground level up. Interns are more likely to reply honestly since they aren’t permanent employees and therefore feel less at risk.
Employers will continue to see the benefits of hiring interns as it will directly assist with keeping up with today’s competitive job market. As the face of the workplace continues to change with the increase of college graduates, evolving technology and use of social media, the nature of internships will change, too. Lovell says, “More employers in our fields are moving to a compensated model, which is a positive trend.”
Internships are becoming extremely competitive; just offering college credit is often not enough. Most interns are hard workers who deserve a stipend or hourly wage. The risk and burdens are relatively low, bringing down the overhead costs to your office.
If Hollywood continues to highlight the life of interns, we can only hope that people will continue to comprehend the full scope of benefits that having an intern really offers. Interns are an integral part to every business—they are the industry’s future.