Should We Get an Intern to do That...Great Idea or Time Suck?

Recently, I was at a client’s board meeting and they were talking about the challenge of inputting data and the cost of administrative work. A board member suggested that they get an intern from the marketing department of a local university. He said that they had to do some “on the ground” work. Every thought it was a great idea…except me.

            I asked, what does the student get out of this? He or she is paying tuition to learn. The student has either worked hard for a scholarship, is incurring debt, or perhaps the gods blessed the student with wealthy parents. The student pays to learn. Yes, there is always some scut work involved in an internship, whether it is a newly minted doctor, a social work student , a business undergrad or grad, or a high school student.  Your job is to supervise and educate them as well as coordinate with their school and teachers  and when they are finished working with you, they should be smarter, more competent and have a competitive edge in their chosen field.

            There are great benefits to having student interns, whether high school students, undergrads or grads. They bring a different point of view. Oddly enough, when I was 26 I was supervising a social work grad student who was 55. I cannot tell you how much Abby Winkelmeyer taught me. She was the mother of 5. Her oldest son was in medical school. I had no children yet and we were working in pediatric neurology and neurosurgery. We had  supervision sessions three times a week that were supposed to last an hour. They frequently last 2-3 hours. She said she learned a lot from me. She was a kind woman. The truth was, I hung on every word. When I left my position, Abby was hired.

            An 18-year-old did a 6 week internship at the end of his senior year of high school for an arts client of mine. In 6 weeks, he turned the use of the computer system around. By the time he left, everyone in the office was using the software system effectively. In return, they let him pick up his favorite musician at the airport, take him to the hotel and then the venue.  He was in heaven. When he left, he said that he would like to go into arts management and asked about a summer job after his freshman year of college. The staff unanimously went to bat for him. The entire staff of 7 was not using their phones, getting podcasts, scheduling meetings. He stewarded them into the 21st century. They taught him about how to promote season ticket sales, contractual issues with “the talent” and the need for sponsorships. They joked that he had to come back because there would certainly be upgrades. He also said he wanted to attend a board meeting. That happened immediately.

If you choose to have interns, be prepared to:

  • Learn
  • Teach
  • Provide meaningful work
  • Seriously consider paying them
  • Follow them after they leave
  • Give them a thorough and meaningful evaluation
  • Chart hours
  • Coordinate goals, curriculum and progress with their school or university

An intern is not an indentured servant or a slave. Most frequently an intern is some who is charged with learning what you have to teach, not supplementing what you don’t or can’t accomplish. Every time I have had an intern, I have learned more than I have taught. It is our job to give them valuable and meaningful experiences in a supervised, safe environment.




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