I remember my one and only co-op/internship experience fondly. It was with a healthcare organization and my mentor was an incredibly smart, genuine, hardworking woman. And while I definitely learned a lot, was included in a lot of meetings, and had the opportunity to try some things, I will admit something: I was not even the littlest bit busy. Not really. I had things to putter away at, and meetings to attend, but truly busy? Really contributing? Nope. I hate feeling useless or purposeless, and I remember the unease I felt, wishing I had more to do, more to give.
Looking back, after six years in the communications field, I understand why I didn’t have a lot on my plate.
It’s pretty simple really. It’s really hard for any organization to take on a student, a co-op placement or an intern. You’re essentially getting someone up to speed, and often, turning around to say goodbye to them just a few short weeks later. And from an organization’s perspective, it could feel like a lot of work, for perhaps little reward.
That’s really a shame. On both sides. I’ve seen companies work with their interns, perhaps shuffle them into social media roles because they’re young and perceived as understanding technology, and neither the intern nor the organization really feel like they got a lot out of it.
I want an intern to have a great experience. I want them to feel valuable, and useful, and like they’re learning every day. I want them to go back to school at the end of it saying, “Wow, now I really want to work there because it was so interesting and I feel great about what I accomplished.”
And today, more importantly, I want my clients to see the incredible value interns can bring to the table and make the most of their fresh thinking and perspective.
So, I’ve been thinking, how do we both give an invaluable experience to a student, and receive great value in return? Next time, try this:
- Have a comprehensive content strategy ready to rock before the first time a student walks through your door on their first day. Especially if you plan on letting them run your social accounts. Everything from overarching goals and objectives to the nittiest, grittiest details: voice and tone guides; community management guidelines; clear response matrices; detailed FAQs; sample posts; the absolute enormous red flags to avoid; and a clear understanding of when to call in support.
- Give them homework. They are in school after all. Ask them to dig into your blogs, social channels, broader communications plans, crisis or issues management guides, business plans, and virtually anything else that could give them a sense of who your organization is at the heart of it and how you operate. Get them to read things, and react. Ask them questions about what they see as gaps or opportunities. If they’re tasked with content generation, or any aspect of content strategy, having that big picture in mind will only help.
- Be available. Or, if you can’t, identify someone who can. Even better, give the intern a team with a variety of skill sets and perspectives to draw upon. Then it’s not just up to one person, but gives the whole team a chance to help your student succeed. If you or your team can’t be available, accept that it might not be the right time to have a student or intern in house.
- Let them try. And fail. Obviously, everyone always wants to do well. Especially students,who are likely getting close to graduation and trying to build the connections and network they’ll need to find a job once they’re out in the great wide world for real. They need the permission from the whole team to take (reasonable) steps alone, and take ownership of what they’re making and contributing to.
- Harness their enthusiasm for new things. One of the absolute best things about interns is their passion and enthusiasm for new technology, ideas and initiatives. They are baggage-free, excited, and often some the first users of new platforms and technology. If you’ve been thinking about trying something, give them a chance to do it. Help them write a plan, a proposal, an idea, and let them give it a shot.
Today, many of my clients have co-op students or interns. As a creative and content strategist, I see huge potential for both students and my clients when it comes to content marketing. I think there are many ways students can dive into something real, feel ownership and get excited about their work. And, most importantly for my clients, provide real support and value.
One bonus tip for the road: I remember that being a “starving student” was kind of a real thing. Work lunches – even the simplest, post-meeting leftover sandwiches – literally made my day. Feed your students. And they’ll love you forever.