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How to Lose an Intern in 10 Days

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DoSomething.org loves interns. During the summer we have almost the same number of staff as interns running around the office (we have 20 college interns this summer!). Interns are our No. 1 source for recruiting full-time staff, and they bring an awesome energy into the office (we've hired 9 interns as staff in the last 4 years).

2011-06-20-cassidy.jpg
John Cassidy is an example of an awesome intern turned full time staff. John began as a graphic design intern at DoSomething.org in 2008, he immediately became an integral part of the team and his work quality and work ethic made us realize that we needed to create a full time position. We hired him after interning the next summer (we were hazing him) and over the next two years his skills as both a graphic designer and video editor grew at a staggering rate. He helped define the office culture and refused to let our team miss a deadline or turn out a subpar product.

Sadly, John is moving to Australia and is leaving DoSomething.org (he is looking for an awesome job if you know of any @JohnPCassidy), but he has reminded me of how important our internship program is for recruiting top talent to DoSomething.org. So, since the summer is the time for intern-fueled productivity binges, I thought it would be good to remind not-for-profit managers not lose their top talent -- by explaining some things not to do in your intern's first 10 days.

1. Choose poorly
Getting the right people on the bus is the most important step. Make sure before day one that you have gotten a strong group of applicants and had proper interviews with your intern. If you start with a bad fit, losing an intern in 10 days will be no problem.

2. Don't pay them
When you don't pay your interns, you attract less talented applicants and increase the chance that they'll leave you for a paying gig (within 10 days). Worst of all, by not paying interns you send a signal that their work isn't worth paying for to both you and to your organization.

3. Give them terrible equipment
Saddling your intern with Windows 95 or a computer that makes AOL dialup sounds when it connects to the internet is a sure-fire way to cripple an intern's productivity. As a manager, do a day's work on your intern's machine; if you don't feel like quitting, it's a good sign your intern will make it past day 3.

4. Treat them like 'interns'
When you treat interns like a separate caste and don't expect staff-level work -- you get what you'd expect. In the Middle Ages, interns were called apprentices and the goal was to teach them the trade so they could eventually take over.

5. Treat them like copy machines
Intern tasks are a right-of-passage, but if the only work an intern does is act as a copy jockey they will probably never consider your organization for future employment.

6. No long-term goals
Like any employee, interns need to have a larger goal that they are working toward. If tomorrow they feel like they could be replaced, they may call your bluff and move on. Create a goal with a measurable outcome such as doubling Facebook fans, creating 45 new media partner outlets, etc.

7. No growth goals
Ask your interns what they want to learn. John Cassidy grew every day because there was always something new he was learning, I am sure if this hadn't been the case we'd have lost him by day 10. Have your interns set growth goals of what they want to learn while at your org.

8. No kickball
Interns are coming from a social college or high school environment, so if your company doesn't have social events your organization is going to seem about as exciting as study hall. DoSomething.org makes a point of having a summer kickball team. (Tip: just challenge other orgs and show up at a field at the same time, no need to overpay for a league.) If you're in NYC drop us a challenge: kickball@dosomething.org.

9. Micromanage
Nothing frustrates a talented intern more than being told what they already know, or what they possibly know better than you. Give interns enough space to decide the best way to accomplish a task given the parameters you set. Hire talented people and get out of the way.

10. Create an unstable work environment
Here is a good example of a current listing I'd deem as unstable:

"Why should I do an internship with Congressman Weiner?
An internship with our office provides students with a unique opportunity to experience firsthand the American political system by working in either one of our district offices, or in our Congressional office in Washington, DC. The Anthony Weiner Congressional Internship Program is an exciting and educational experience that offers broad insight into the legislative policy-making process while allowing students the chance to apply classroom learning to real Congressional work. "

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