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Intern-al Affairs: How to Intern (and Manage Interns) This Summer

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The search for summer jobs is already in full swing. Resumes and emails from eager college and high school students abound!

A new study reveals that interns have a better shot at landing and keeping a job out of college.

Intern, once a noun, has turned into a common verb (as in "I am interning") and interning is no longer just a practice for the young, as unemployed middle aged professionals are using internships to gain experience in new fields. In fact, a summer movie features Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as mid-life interns.

I just hired two college interns for my own company. Interns can be fantastic. But not all interns are created equal. Here are some tips for getting, keeping, and benefiting from an internship. For prospective interns:
  1. Choose an internship in a field you are truly passionate about or interested in. If you are lukewarm about the field, it will show no matter how much you try to fake it.
  2. You are better off settling for lower pay in a field you love than a well-paid position doing something you can't stand. Supplement your income with other part-time summer work and projects.
  3. You may be bright, but let's face it...if you have limited experience in the field you're entering you shouldn't expect to make a fortune or run the company this summer. Attempt to show a little humility.
  4. Many employers take advantage of interns by not paying them at all or using them as "summer slaves." Be wary of the boss who is looking for a butler and not a protégée. And, if you are a late-life intern, make sure the work dynamic with your supervisor is healthy and not awkward or competitive. Address any concerns and ground rules up front.
  5. Keep a journal throughout your internship, documenting what you're learning and how you can apply it to future jobs. Even if you discover the industry or job isn't the right "fit" for you, focus on the skills and experiences you can take to your next job. Never pout, suddenly quit mid-internship, or "poison" the other interns/employees with your misery. Internships, like real jobs, are often miserable. That's one of the things you'll learn this summer.
For employers:
  1. Think carefully if you have time to supervise an intern or find someone in your company with interest/patience to do it.
  2. Create a specific job description and pay structure for your intern. Even a small stipend is fine. If the internship is unpaid, develop a "curriculum," so your intern will clearly understand what he is learning while working for you.
  3. Respect your interns. They may be young or inexperienced, but they are human beings - not robots or slaves. Try to remember your own good, bad, and ugly bosses when you were just starting out. Treat them as you would have wanted to be treated. Although an internship should be a dose of reality, it doesn't need to be a fraternity hazing. Include interns in company activities as you would other employees. Introduce them by name, not "Meet my intern."
  4. Be a mentor. Arrange regular times to meet with your intern(s), answer questions, and listen to suggestions.
  5. Stay in touch. I once hired an intern when she was 16 and she came back during school breaks to work for my company. An investment in the right training can pay off for years to come!


Happy interning in summer 2013!