What Should Employers Do For Interns?

Newsroom by David Sim

The newsroom can be a daunting place for interns (Pic: David Sim)

By Hetti Lawrence (@hetti_rose)

Google the phrase ‘work experience’ and you’ll find many articles by top organisations advising students and graduates on how best to behave on their visit to a working environment. Wear smart clothes; be friendly and engaging; be punctual; be clean shaven… the list goes on and on.

However, there is very little advice available for the companies who accept these interns. In my opinion, they are in far more desperate need of advice than we are.

As prospective interns, we go to the trouble of calling or emailing companies, often multiple times, begging them to briefly accept us into their lives, to graciously undertake any odd jobs that they don’t want to do, usually for no pay.

As a result, these companies have on offer dozens of very keen students, often with excellent qualifications and prior experience, willing to work for them in exchange for a decent reference for when we decide its high-bloody-time someone paid us for our work.

So, because of this hideously unfair arrangement that is now basically mandatory to all students and graduates should they wish to secure a decent job (or perhaps even any job at all), I have decided to write a very necessary list of pointers for all employers who are considering offering placements or internships:

1) Assign someone to be responsible for the intern. Make clear to the intern that this is the person they should go to should they have any questions about anything. Make sure the intern knows this person’s name, where they sit in the office, their contact details etc.

2) Introduce the intern to everyone in the office – or, if it is a particularly large office, just to the people in the immediate area. Make sure the intern knows everyone’s name and what they do, and encourage your colleagues to be welcoming and engaging back.

3) Give the intern a tour of the office. It doesn’t have to be particularly in-depth, just the basics – where the toilets are, where the fire exits are, where to make a cup of tea/coffee, where to keep/have your lunch etc. Make sure they know/have written down any codes needed to get in and out of the building (ideally email them this ahead of their arrival) and make sure they know basic information like when they’re expected to arrive and when they can go home.

4) Take the intern to their desk and familiarise them with the equipment they will be using. Ideally, your company should have a ‘work experience email’, so work can be sent to the intern and so that they have a contact address to give out should they need to speak to anyone. Also, make sure the intern knows the company number should they need to ask anyone to call them back, as well as any out-dialling codes etc.

5) MAKE SURE THE INTERN ALWAYS HAS SOMETHING TO DO. Before you bring someone in on work experience, consider whether there will be enough work to occupy them for a week/fortnight. If not, be honest with them: it’s ultimately in their best interests. Let them know they will be first in line should an opportunity for a work experience placement arise in the near future.

And if you DO decide to take them on, here are some pointers on how to keep them busy:

● Before they arrive on the first day, have a list (mental or written) of tasks for them to undertake, ideally some which are ongoing that they can always fall back on should they finish other work.

● If you notice they are finishing work quicker than expected, take that on board. Offer them work that is more challenging and see how they get on.

● If the worst happens and you completely run out of things for them to do, ask other colleagues to see if they would like any assistance with anything. Perhaps the intern could just shadow them for a while, particularly if they are making any out-of-office trips.

Consider this: you have taken on an intelligent, enthusiastic young person who desperately wants to work in your field, perhaps even within your company. If you screw up their first experience in that environment, your sector may have just lost one of the greatest future employees it could have ever had.

Do you have any tips yourself that you think employers should take on board when hiring interns? Join the debate on Twitter @JournoGrads or on Facebook

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