It is no secret that hiring is heating up for many professions. As competition increases to recruit productive new graduates in highly desired fields, smart businesses recognize that hiring college interns is an excellent way to develop a recruiting pipeline and get some work done at the same time. Today's driven college student -- the one that most every company hopes to hire -- may complete two to three internships before graduation.
However, many organizations forget that these summer hires have a huge impact on their brand image. Treat your interns well, and you send a very enthusiastic ambassador back to campus. Treat them poorly, and rest assured that 2,000 of their closest Instagram friends will know about their dreadful work experience. Here are some of the biggest pitfalls for employers to avoid:
1. Assume you hired a kid (and actually call him that throughout his internship). Of course, there are plenty of first-time interns who are novices to the world of work -- that's why they pursue internships. However, just because someone is lacking experience does not make him or her unintelligent or a child. The student population that pursues an internship is already wise enough to recognize that they need career exposure, so take that thoughtfulness into consideration.
Using demeaning names like "the kids" or simply calling them "the interns" all summer without actually using their real names sends a very loud message that you or your firm doesn't value their raw talent. Everyone appreciates feeling respected and valued, and smart employers ensure that employees adhere to a culture of respect for all colleagues.
2. Show gender bias. As we surveyed different interns, we heard stories of the brilliant computer science or finance student being referred to as "dear" or "honey." Strangely, that feedback didn't come from a single male student. Just as it's not considered P.C. to call your female colleague "sweetie," the same rules apply for interns. College students appreciate a warm welcome and will likely perform better when they feel integrated into the environment. However, welcoming them like your Aunt Edna -- pinching them on the cheek as you call them "sweetums" -- is taking it too far.
3. Only give grunt work. It's realistic that an intern will have some less desirable work duties along with more educational ones. However, I frequently hear from interns and employers alike that college students can work through much more challenging work than what is initially assigned and tend to work much faster than expected. Managers should assess their interns' skills with a couple short initial projects to gauge how trainable they are and their depth of knowledge.
You should also have more complicated and content-rich projects ready to go when you need to raise the bar. When it comes to the more menial tasks, employees who are early in their careers do best when seemingly "grunt" work is tied into the bigger picture. Copying, for example, may seem tedious, but learning how to be prepared and have flawless documents ready for a presentation is a must for anyone in a business setting. Establish the value of the task, and your intern will likely respond much better to the assignment.
4. Share TMI (too much information). Remember that your interns are new to the work environment, and many do not have the experience to know what things are confidential versus what things are OK to share within (and outside) the company. In general, share information related to their role and other details that are educational in nature. Revealing confidential thoughts or strategic business initiatives to an inexperienced short-term colleague is never a good idea and can make the student uncomfortable.
Also, if something goes wrong -- say, confidential information is overshared to the wrong people -- the intern just returns to school and writes the mistake off as a bad summer job. You, however, have to live with the consequences. Keeping discussions focused on professional common knowledge and light social conversation is usually the best way to go.
5. Be rude to your "guests." There are some very tight-knit departments that thrive on inside jokes and speaking in acronyms that only an insider would know. When you add an intern to these teams, she can often feel left out. Whenever possible, consider that you have a "guest" employee in your workspace before launching into your team's secret handshake or whispering about how Mary in Accounting is doing that thing she did the last three busy seasons. Most interns are not looking to impose, but humans, in general, prefer to feel included. There will be plenty of time when the intern is not around to rehash what happened at the holiday party in 2012.
There is no doubt that completing an internship or two is excellent for the professional development of the college students and new graduates that participate. For employers to reap the maximum benefits of offering internships, they should create a role both rich in learning and in overall social development.
Rest assured that your interns are going to share their experience -- good or bad -- with their social networks. Treat your intern well, and you will get high productivity and a brand ambassador with feedback that makes more people want to work for you.
Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.
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