Three experts offer advice on how to get the most out of your internship.
Gone are the days of walking straight from the convocation hall to a cubicle in a desirable company. As a result, many students and recent graduates look to internships to get a foot in the door at a potential workplace. Internships can make for a win-win situation – experience and contacts for the intern and much-needed support for a business. But taking on an intern also poses unique challenges and issues. For insights into finding the best interns and maximizing their and your experience, we spoke with three experts: Robert Jago, managing director of Vancouver Internships; Joe Freeburn, associate dean of marketing management at BCIT; and Lindsay Baker, manager of volunteer services at the Vancouver Aquarium.
Have a Mentor in Place
All of our experts agreed that before you begin looking for an intern, be sure you have an existing employee who is willing and able to act as a supervisor. “That’s a requirement of our program. You have to have a dedicated intern mentor,” Baker says. Jago seconded this, saying that before he even considers placing an intern he ensures that there is “somebody who does the job [the intern will be doing] and can act as a mentor and actually train them.”
Know Where to Look
Finding an intern that will be a good fit at your company is not unlike finding a new employee and can be a daunting process if you don’t know where to start. According to Freeburn, BCIT works with companies in setting up partnerships, even hosting a mingling night where potential interns can meet with company representatives. This allows BCIT to “edit for the companies and also point them in the direction of students that are most appropriate for them.” The Vancouver Aquarium also relies on schools to help fill intern vacancies, especially for specialized programs like animal care and human resources, says Baker.
Give and Take
While an intern often provides valuable support within your company, it’s important to remember that they are there to learn as well. “We don’t want our interns to be going in and doing photocopying and stapling. It has to be an internship where there is value to be learned by the intern,” Freeburn asserts. Jago also insists that companies have to remember to keep expectations in check when working with new interns, as many people “have really high expectations about what the intern will produce, but an intern will produce about half to a third of what you would expect” from a regular employee.
Should problems arise, it’s best for supervisors to bring them up immediately. “It could simply be miscommunication,” says Freeburn. Jago agrees, saying that lack of communication or familiarity with office policies is at the heart of most problems and can often be solved with a quick conversation. Jago explains: “If it is a maturity issue, it’s worth sitting down with the intern and discussing ways to work around it."