No Staff Shall Be Sidelined: How to Make an Intern’s Time at Your Company a Transformative Experience
Here at Coal, we’re in the habit of taking on bright, fresh minds to add to our recurring roster of imaginative all-stars. Every year or so, we scour the lecture halls and libraries of Pennsylvania’s prestigious postsecondary institutions to secure interns to spice up the current creative concoction we have brewing.
Interns bring cutting-edge ideas into the office. Their freshly educated, young minds help more seasoned veterans tap into what’s hip and reassess their own ways of doing things in the workplace.
Before they can have these rejuvenating effects, however, interns actually have to be assigned to a team and entrusted with work. (Seriously, they’ve been sitting in the lobby for an hour, someone please give them something to do.)
So, to get some guidance on the intern experience, we turned to our Managing Director, Camaryn. She clued us in on the best practices to help both interns and employers get the most out of their summers together.
#1 – Give Them Meaningful Work
Interns need to learn the ropes when they first start and it can take them a while to understand a company’s policies and workflow. They’re unproven in the organization and unfamiliar with its projects and clients. Thus, it can be tempting to stick them with menial work until employers get a sense of their abilities and strengths.
Someone needs to brew the coffee and fetch the mail, but these humdrum tasks shouldn’t always fall into the new person’s lap. While some career consultants recommend interns spend anywhere from 20% to 50% of their time on busy work, Camaryn thinks this defeats the point of having interns in the first place . As she puts it:
“My biggest tip is to give them projects that matter. Mindless, made-up tasks are not a good test of skills and they are also not beneficial to the intern. Real-world projects give you and the intern a true look at their abilities!”
So, don’t be scared to put them on that important project or connect them with a key client—just be sure they have enough oversight to succeed in their duties!
#2 – Provide Guidance and Insight Whenever Possible
Camaryn admits that, “as a small, busy team, it can be challenging to find time to slow down and teach someone.”
While it’s true that taking time to train interns can be difficult, it’s a necessary part of expanding your team and gaining new perspectives on your work. In the interests of everyone’s busy schedules, Camaryn suggests to “share the responsibilities among various team members so not everything falls on one person.”
This team-oriented approach is actually in line with most interns’ goals during their time with a company as well. Collaborating with and getting to know various different professionals, or networking, is an important part of summer programs that allows interns to :
- Learn a diverse range of perspectives, ideas, and approaches to different work-related scenarios
- Pull from this wealth of knowledge when encountering new challenges in their career
- Form a trust of reliable associates who they can turn to for guidance and support
Internships are two-way streets in which companies gain a valuable new perspective and interns gain experience and connections. And, if both are happy with their arrangement, it’s possible for it to blossom into something more after the original term is up.
#3 – Improve Their Skills and Prepare Them For Employment
One of the most important aspects of an intern’s experience is the chance to develop their skills and gain valuable career insight. College should equip them with the necessary knowledge and abilities to get their foot in the door, but an internship gives them the chance to apply themselves in real-world scenarios.
Ultimately, most interns want to walk away from their summer programs with the confidence that they’re ready to enter the workforce. Camaryn seems to think so as well, as she believes:
“[An Internship] is a great way to feel out potential new hires. Internships are like a trial run! By giving interns actual projects, you get to see their strengths and areas of opportunity and help guide them as they prepare for their future careers.”
So, as you’re training your summer intern in the ins and outs of your line of work, think of it as showing a potential new coworker the ropes. They’ve already been approved to join the team temporarily so, if they show promise and a willingness to learn, they may just earn themselves an extension once their initial program ends.
It happened for Samantha and many others on our team, so don’t be surprised if a summer intern wows you enough to make the full-time roster. In fact, over 70% of interns are hired by their companies after completing their programs—so, when we say internships are like extended job interviews, we really mean it !
Invaluable Internship Takeaways
If you’re a company, non-profit, government entity, or top-secret organization taking on interns, it’s key to utilize them to their full potential. Failing to do so can cause them to become bored and dismayed with the field they work in as a whole—plus, it’s not a very effective use of your resources.
To make the most out of your and your intern’s time, remember these key tips:
- Give them meaningful, important projects that test their knowledge and abilities
- Limit their menial tasks and try to distribute busy work evenly amongst your staff
- Train and guide them whenever possible, splitting mentorship duties amongst team members so interns get a diverse, informed view of their line of work
- Help them build their skills and prepare them for working in the real world—especially if that means signing on with your company after their internship
Incredible interns are invaluable and irreplaceable—so treat them as such and utilize their unique attributes to the fullest while you still have them aboard!
 “Don’t Be Sidelined As An Intern.” Forbes. July 6, 2011. [Online] Available: https://forbes.com/. [Accessed August 22, 2023]
 “The Benefits and Challenges of Summer Internships.” United States Department of Education. July 28, 2022. [Online] Available: https://blog.ed.gov/. [Accessed August 22, 2023]
 “20+ COMPELLING INTERNSHIP STATISTICS : DO INTERNS GET PAID?.” Zippia. July 19, 2023. [Online] Available: https://www.zippia.com/. [Accessed August 22, 2023]