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How to get the most out of your interns

As March marks the time that students start to reach out to secure their summer internships, we asked Gigi O’Connell, a PR assistant for The Henker Group, to write about her experience as a former intern for the company. O’Connell was promoted following her summer internship and now works part time while attending the University of Maryland as a full-time student. She provides valuable insight for senior staff and small business owners to consider when recruiting and planning work for the “dues-paying position”of the summer intern.

Gigi O'Connell

Gigi O'Connell

Imagine your stereotypical summer intern. She is probably returning from her second Starbucks run of the day to package a stack of crisp, white envelopes. Later, she will make some copies and alphabetize a plethora of files. By the end of the summer, she will have learned little more than what a breve latte is.

Now, erase that image from your mind and imagine your gold-star intern. She strives for greatness, completes tasks in a timely manner and looks to take on more responsibility than she is given. She is hardworking, confident and enthusiastic. When she comes to you with a problem, she also proposes a solution. Most importantly, she is eager to learn.

That’s the kind of intern you hope to hire.

I started as a fresh-out-of-high-school intern with The Henker Group in June of 2011. I expected no more from my initial meeting with Mary Ann than to speak with her about how to prepare for a career in public relations as a young professional. One week later, I had an internship.

I was excited, enthusiastic and confident — but since I did not know the ropes of the public relations industry yet, I relied on the skills I already had. Even as a high school student, I was a grammar, punctuation, usage and style perfectionist. This is and always will be a valuable skill in the world of public relations. In addition, I had extensive knowledge of social media and remain a social media fiend.

So I copy edited document after document, following AP Style guidelines. I provided social media recommendations and ideas. Most importantly, I learned. I learned how to write a press release, develop a business plan, completely brand or rebrand a company and create a tailored media list. Beyond the daily tasks my job entailed, I learned how a high-level company is run and I learned the style and strengths of the business.

Interning with The Henker Group was the best decision I have ever made — not only interning, but making the best of my internship by grabbing responsibility by the horns and running with it.

What’s the moral of my story? Interns can be valuable assets to your business if you hire the right ones. Sure, it is great to have someone pick up coffee and make copies, but do not underestimate the ways in which interns can enhance your business. Since the 20-somethings of the world are constantly exposed to social media, for example, they may be able to offer new insight and a fresh perspective on things. I grew and progressed in my internship because I was given the opportunity.

My boss made me feel valuable, constantly asking for my input and allowing me to work on high-level projects. I was not simply told what to do; I was involved in decision-making processes and important discussions. My advice to business owners is to open the door to your interns so they can gain insight on how your company is run. Give them the opportunity to grow with your business and you just might be pleasantly surprised by the results.

One comment

  1. janofsky@bpjfirm.com

    According to the U.S. Department of Labor, for profit, private companies can only use unpaid interns if six factors are present: the training must be similar to what interns would learn in an educational program; the internship is for the benefit of the interns; the interns do not displace employees; the employer doesn’t derive an immediate benefit from the interns; the interns are not entitled to a job at the end of the internship; and the interns understand that they aren’t entitled to wages.

    Increasingly, employers use unpaid interns to do menial work that is of immediate benefit to the company, that is of questionable benefit to the intern, and that otherwise would have to be done by a paid employee. Employers who do so in violation of the law may be subject to severe penalties, up to treble the amount of the unpaid wages plus attorneys’ fees and costs.

    A person who suspects that they should have been paid for work performed as an unpaid intern should seek legal advice from an attorney who is knowledgeable about wage and hour matters. Likewise, businesses contemplating the use of interns should have their internship programs scrutinized by counsel in advance.