Every business needs them, every graduating college senior wants to be one, but what makes a good intern? What are the different types of interns, and what types of interns should you avoid?
The Unpaid Intern:
I give this piece of advice to every intern that interviews with me: I will never exploit an intern. What I mean is that if I can make money off of you, in other words bill out your time to a client, then I will pay you. I don’t believe in making money off someone’s labor and not paying them. By the same token, I can’t afford to lose money with an intern either. At the end of the day, an intern should be learning in exchange for helping. Key words are learning and helping.
The Paid Intern:
The paid intern is usually a college graduate who is looking for real-world experience and needs a job but, alas, has no real-world experience. More than a job, they are in need of a chance. Typically they have school smarts and book smarts and some technical/software experience, but they have trouble finding a ‘real job’ meaning one in their field, because they lack the experience required, even for an entry-level position. It’s like dating, it’s much more difficult to find a mate when you don’t have one. Once you have one, the perception becomes, well he/she can’t be that bad because someone is putting up with them.
What makes a good intern?
Answer: A good attitude. Attitude goes a long way. Be humble, willing to put in long hours, take criticism well and follow directions. Further, no job should be ‘beneath’ you. Heck, I still vacuum the office and take out the garbage at times. Sounds pretty basic but believe it or not, some folks don’t get it. Most often, interns are referrals, meaning that someone we know, knows someone who needs an internship. Sometimes these internships are for required school credits, sometimes they are just to get someone off the couch. It should be considered a foot in the door. An industry job. The beauty of the internship is that if you play your cards right, it might lead to full time work.
Over the years, we’ve had our share of good and bad interns. Here’re a few ‘case studies’. (the names and genders have been changed to protect the innocent):
We had one intern who was a graphic design major and college graduate. He was working at a big box electronic store and needed to have some design agency experience on his resume. We gave him a shot, and he agreed to come in a few days a week. Granted he had a long 2 hour+ commute, but there were days when he wouldn’t come in at all with no courtesy phone call or anything. Not good. One day, this same intern just stopped coming in altogether and we never received a phone call or reason why or even a thank you note. Upon further inspection I found out he had listed our company on his Linked-in profile as a full time mid-level employee (which he was not). A few months later, I received a phone call from a prospective employer asking me how well he had performed as our marketing manager. Marketing Manager? Oh hail naw. Serious no-no. Don’t ever put someone in a position where they are supposed to be covering for you, but don’t know what the shot is. Just bad. For the record, I would never hire this person, nor would I recommend this person.
By contrast, we had another intern who was textbook. Very helpful around the office, would do just about any task, no questions asked, and on his last day, he surprised everyone in the office with $5 Dunkin Donuts gift cards for each employee. Total class act. He asked permission to use us as a reference and he gave a heads-up as to when we might be getting a phone call. The result was that we gave him an outstanding reference when we were asked to describe our experience with having him on the team. That’s how you do it. Where is it taught? We don’t know, but it seems that a lot of it should be common sense and may even boil down to character.
We once had a paid intern who never realized the opportunity she had. To her, it seemed as though she were doing us a favor and was hell bent on finding a ‘real job’ to the point that she was constantly taking time off for interviews. We were clearly the stepping stone. A pit-stop on her way to greatness. Apparently our firm wasn’t big enough for her because she turned down an offer for full time employment because it was not going to be a 100% design position. Truth is she didn’t have 100% of the skills required. We saw potential in her, but she didn’t see it in us. It has to work both ways for a good fit. I’ve found that a lot of Millennials are not willing to pay their dues – they are looking for the quickest way to the top, but the truth is that if she didn’t earn her stripes here, she would surely have to earn them somewhere else. There’s no getting around experience. We totally get it, some interns won’t be grateful or express a thank you, and you just gotta keep it moving. Life will teach you what you need to know… eventually.
Never judge a book by its cover would be the best way to introduce the next intern we had. This young man had an agent represent him, and by agent I mean his wife called the office and asked if we had an opportunity for him. We had some mutual friends and therefore he came highly recommended. Folks were willing to ‘vouch’ for him. Despite his portfolio being a little rough around the edges, we offered him the internship as a way to fulfill his graduation requirements at a local university. Homeboy showed up in a cloud of cigarette smoke that would’ve made Pig Pen proud. He didn’t exactly wear his Sunday best for his first day on the job either. He did however possess a very humble demeanor and was clearly very eager to learn. He was polite, bright, articulate and did as he was told.
The truth is, for an intern, a good, grateful, teachable attitude is the single most important thing we look for next to strong design skills and a sincere desire to work hard. What about the cigarette smell and the less than business casual office attire? Nothing that a bottle of Febreze and a clean button down can’t fix. Much easier than an attitude adjustment.
10 Tips to Help You Get the Most Out of Your Internship:
Ramon has over 20 years of experience in award-winning, market-proven, print collateral, marketing material, iphone/ipad app and website design specializing in corporate identity and branding. Ramon’s passion for entrepreneurial design was borne out of 10 years as Creative Director for Jay Walker at Walker Digital, the Stamford based idea laboratory and business incubator holding over 300 US Patents. Ramon served as Senior Art Director on the start-up launch team behind Priceline.com, a Walker company and invention. Most recently, Ramon’s logo and identity work was selected to be published in “Typography and Enclosures” the fourth book in the Master Library series by LogoLounge.
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