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Tapping the potential of student interns


Student interns can be a company’s secret weapon. They’re enthusiastic and highly motivated and many possess technological skills that can greatly improve projects. Hiring them is cost-effective for you and means a great deal to them. 

Interns often enter an office with an incredible amount of tech know-how. Many are masters of mediums that firms are still struggling to understand and adopt. And it’s not just a matter of knowing the tools; they’re keenly aware of today’s media ecosystem. For example, an intern might propose using a social media channel’s geo-targeted filters in order to place a brand in front of a key demographic — exactly the sort of cost-effective tactic that might elude staff who focus primarily on traditional media channels.

Many businesses don’t fully unlock these interns’ potential. Rather than leverage their unique skills, these firms assign interns to mundane tasks, such as organizing meetings and photocopying things. That’s not to denigrate such duties; after all, an office needs to keep running. But it can prove short-sighted.

For students, an internship is a good opportunity to gain valuable professional experience, which could translate into an even better job upon graduation. Here are some steps a company should take when onboarding an intern:

Introduce them to the working culture of the company by explaining the core values, hours of operation and things like lunch and breaks.

Chat about texting and the use of personal social media during the workday. Different firms take different approaches to regulating this sort of activity.

Set ground rules about what a manager or boss expects from interns.

Introduce smaller, more achievable tasks during the introductory period, which will open the door to success.

 Once the intern feels more confident, you can build from there. The key to bringing interns into a company is making them feel comfortable, with a clear set of expectations. While it takes time and thought to build such a trusting relationship, it’s well worth it in the end. If you watch the television show “Billions,” you’ve seen how Taylor, the brilliant student intern, has been empowered to make sizable investment decisions. Trusting in a young mind can often pay off.

In order to manage interns effectively, listening is key. Too often, businesses will onboard an intern and then simply dump a list of tasks onto their lap. By engaging in conversations with new interns and figuring out their interests and strengths, you can determine how to use them more effectively. 

For example, if the intern demonstrates a passion for writing and editorial work, it might benefit everyone if you assign him or her to a PR or content-production team. In a similar vein, if the intern expresses a desire to learn a particular tool — such as Photoshop — take the time to teach. Motivation, combined with skill, is a real force multiplier.

With enough cultivation and grooming, interns can grow into a wonderful resource, full of fresh ideas and cutting-edge knowledge. Ostensibly they’ve joined the organization to learn, but they can end up being the ones who teach exciting new things. In order to unlock all of this potential, however, an organization needs to respect what interns can do — and pay accordingly.

Interns can prove to be valuable team members and they should be paid as such. Although many businesses have used unpaid interns for years, the regulations around the practice have tightened, forcing businesses to allocate a budget line for internships. This isn’t a bad thing, provided businesses develop a plan for utilizing interns’ skill sets. As students, the income they receive can make a huge difference in their lifestyle. In some cases, they might otherwise have to work for minimum wage in an unlikely job just to earn enough to make ends meet.

Interns might not realize the full potential of the opportunity you are offering, but as they progress in their professional life, they will look back in appreciation. Their first full-time employer will benefit and they will be worth more financially as well. As an employer, you will get a great deal of satisfaction out of teaching what you know — and you’ll be surprised at how much you learn.

A Larchmont resident, Janet Odgis is the president and creative director of Odgis + Co, an award-winning certified woman-owned design firm based in New York City. She can be reached by email at odgis@odgis.com or by phone at
212-286- 0277.

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