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Rethinking internships: Part I: Mentoring out the mundane

Many of us remember our internship programs during college as little more than a “check in the box” toward graduation credit and, if we were lucky to get a paid one, some pocket change to cover the occasional t-shirt purchase at the university book store. Back in my college days as an advertising major, I rarely heard of any fellow classmate ever receiving valuable hands-on experience while interning at an agency, other than being a small fly on the wall watching the full-time staff members at work.

Many of us remember our internship programs during college as little more than a “check in the box” toward graduation credit and, if we were lucky to get a paid one, some pocket change to cover the occasional t-shirt purchase at the university book store. Back in my college days as an advertising major, I rarely heard of any fellow classmate ever receiving valuable hands-on experience while interning at an agency, other than being a small fly on the wall watching the full-time staff members at work.

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The problem is that many organizations view undergraduate students as under qualified to do more than administrative “busy work,” and that the only option, therefore, is for them to give them the opportunity to simply see how the so-called professionals go about their day-to-day operations. Herein lies the dilemma — companies that believe college interns are ill-prepared to handle the more complex taskings within their organization create this self-fulfilling prophecy by NOT integrating them more into their process.

As managers and business owners, we have both the opportunity and responsibility to assimilate internship programs more with current operations for a host of reasons. The benefits to the students are immediate and tangible. Not only do they receive more real-world experience, but a more comprehensive understanding of what type of sales and marketing strategies work under certain circumstances. This can also help the student tie in their academic curriculum more, making the classroom instruction less abstract.

Additionally, interns can gain a greater appreciation for their work and skill sets acquired that will ultimately help in their transition to the full-time workforce after graduation. Students are often times hampered in obtaining good-paying jobs once they leave the university setting due to a lack of practical experience. Even those that highlight internship programs they did on their resume fall short when pressed by the hiring manager for examples of their work. Integrating them more into day-to-day operations would greatly enhance their preparation to enter the real world.

For agencies and organizations, rethinking their internship programs would add both immediate and long-term benefits. Companies can optimize their internal resources more effectively by utilizing this temporary talent pool for more direct client support instead of simply “creating” administrative stuff for them to do. While there will undoubtedly need to be some hand-holding in the beginning, interns who were hired for their initiative and creativity will catch on to processes and procedures quickly and become a value-add to the team.

Moreover, organizations get a much better feel for which student will make for good hires upon graduation by integrating them more in real work. It’s not uncommon for a company to not know an intern’s true potential if they relegate that individual to more mundane tasks for the period of time that they have them. Even if a company doesn’t have a specific job opening in the future, making students a more valuable part of the team will increase the competency level of the sales and marketing industry as a whole, and that’s a benefit we can all share.

Coming in Part II: How to do it – Incubation at the Ground Floor

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