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If you’re wise, you’ve hired an intern for the summer (and if you haven’t, you still should). Interns can contribute to your company in terms of projects and results, and they can also become candidates for future open positions and compelling brand ambassadors (read: they’ll say positive things about you and your company). At a time when finding talent is tougher than ever, relegating interns to coffee and copies is no longer relevant.
It’s critical that you create a great overall work experience for your interns. In addition, perhaps the most important part of creating a great work experience is—well—the work itself.
Far from an extra set of hands to do grunt work, interns can bring some terrific benefits. They can bring fresh perspectives and they don’t suffer from the curse of knowledge. Yes, it’s really a thing—specifically a cognitive barrier to thinking in new ways because of previous experience. In addition to being new, their ideas are also usually more objective than yours since they haven’t been marinating in your business as you have. They bring the newest learning straight from schools that research and teach new ways of working and solving problems. Interns can also provide laser focus on the projects you assign, something the typical employee, who is invariably part of the larger corporate hoopla, cannot.
Given this tremendous set of perspectives interns can bring, you’d be a fool not to give them meaningful work. Here’s how:
Give Them Work With Clear Boundaries
Be sure the work you give an intern has clear boundaries and criteria for success. If you ask them to do a project which is too ambiguous or without a clear sense of a finish line, they will flounder, and you won’t get what you need. One intern said her boss gave her a project which had been on his back burner for years. He wasn’t sure how to frame the problem, how to solve the problem or what success would look like. While it was a project worthy of solving, it was in a state that was much too amorphic for the intern to make a meaningful impact. It was the embodiment of the classic line from Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any path will get you there.” It’s great to give a thorny problem to an intern, just ensure it has enough clarity for them to be successful.
Give Them Work That Lets Them Shape It
Interns need direction in what you want them to accomplish, in addition to having some opportunity to shape the work themselves. To be an author and an owner of work is the foundation of motivation. An intern’s skills are too valuable for them to just check the boxes on a project that is too transactional. Be sure you provide the opportunity for them to influence the way the work gets done. You’ll provide direction on the what (as in, what gets done), but give your intern some input on the how (as in, how the work is accomplished).
Give Them Challenging Work
The ideal work for your intern is something that will challenge them and require them to stretch. While you don’t want to ask an intern to solve world peace (or whatever the analogous problem is for your business), do give them something that will allow them to roll up their sleeves and dig into something meaty enough to challenge their developing skills.
Give Them Work That Connects Them With Others
Rather than work they can accomplish sitting at their desk by themselves, give your intern work that connects them with others. In addition to helping them build their network, you’ll also give others at your company the benefit of their new perspectives. Coworkers will be able to gauge the intern’s potential fit with your company for the long-term, giving you valuable insight about whether you should consider hiring the intern into a full-time role in the future.
Give Them Work That Connects With The Big Picture
Overall, be sure to give your intern work that matters, and be sure they know why it counts for your company. Whether it’s serving your external customers, or someone in the value chain along the way, be sure they are clear with the bigger picture and the value of the work overall. When you give your intern valuable work, you’re valuing the intern as a person—the importance of which cannot be overstated.
But Wait, What If You Need Them To Make A Few Copies
One caveat, the work you give your intern doesn’t have to be fantastically meaningful and motivating every minute. They should definitely be willing to do some of the less exciting work that has to be done. After all, we all have less glamourous tasks on our to-do lists. One intern tells a story about working for a bank that was transitioning paper files to electronic files. For three months, the intern did nothing but stand at the copy machine scanning paper into electronic formats. Needless to say, her experience didn’t cause her to rave about the company. At the end of the day, it’s all about the proportion of work. Be sure the assignments you give your intern have some meaning mixed in. Scanning files is fine, as long as that’s not all you’re asking your intern to do.
Provide for some meaningful work that matters—not just coffee and copies—that is, if you want to contribute to young talent and influence their positive experience of you, your brand and your company.
June 3, 2019 at 06:34AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs