I want to address something many people working in urban centers with lots of university students encounter: interns. You may know some after your own stint as a young starving étudient. They come to work with and learn about the professional world for a brief time before they set out on their own careers as young professionals. In this brief reflection, I ask for some creative liberty in comparing internships to a beautiful omelet and explain how to cultivate mutually beneficial relationships through internships.
Before I begin my breakfast analogy, remember that internships mattered to you in your young professional career. During my time at Boston University, I held a number of different part time jobs to pay for school: sailing coach, ice hockey referee, baseball umpire, radio station street teamer, etc. In each role, I learned new skills but none taught me the business skills my internships at Intralinks and Marchon Partners instilled. My managers played the greatest role in my development by rewarding good initiative, challenging those areas I needed improvement (including falling asleep in an important meeting! Yes, it happened) and encouraging me.
Internships present an opportunity to help someone mature in their career and, believe it or not, in our own too! For some, working with an intern allows them to cultivate strong managerial skills in a low pressure environment. You can learn how to balance workloads, offer critical feedback and manage a team for the first time. This should excite everyone!
Now to the most important part of the blog, the meal. First, when you meet an intern, think of an egg sitting in your perfectly sterile, clean and cool refrigerator. This egg came from a locally grown farm where it grew under the close watch of a mother hen and the farm team. For your intern, they may only know a similarly incubated, protected classroom. They take notes and repeat whatever ideas their professor spits out at them. In your business, if you hope to maximize their experience, you need to transform this raw egg into something unique and delicious.
To manage the raw egg, you need to crack the shell and find the core yoke. In professional settings, we seldom think of “cracking” an employee as a good thing! Usually this comes from working long, strenuous hours in an unhealthy setting. In your intern’s case, you want to gently crack the shell on the edge of a bowl, removing the yoke without the shell fragments. This delicate process means orienting the student to the customs and rhythm of your work. It means welcoming them with hopes that they feel empowered to contribute meaningful work every day. These small gestures allow you to reach their core and begin to transform their professional outlook for the better!
This transformation takes place in a cooking process. You cannot cook an egg by itself! You need to add butter and pepper to the pan and beat water and milk with the yoke to prepare a proper batter. At work, interns should experience different areas of your company to understand the larger business. Working in other areas and exposure to other raw materials might not make sense to them at first; but we know from our own experience, the more we expose ourselves to other areas of the company, the better prepared we are to serve. Introduce your intern to as much as you can.
After this initial exposure, you need to turn the heat up. Interns can’t sit as raw batter forever. Throw them in the pan, turn the heat up and watch them take shape. To draw further comparison between the cook and manager, as cooks cannot abandon the eggs in the pan, managers cannot abandon interns! Eggs burn and become inedible without attention! Chefs need to move them around, turn them and plate them after they cook. Managers need to stay close to their interns, watch, offer strong, critical feedback and adjust to their needs. As a first-time manager, interns allow less senior full time employees to develop these skills for later in their careers. The cooking process makes great results when given proper attention.
Last counsel to remember as the internship concludes: you need to plate the “omelet” and present it to the world. As a manager, encourage your intern in his or her development. Consider endorsing them on LinkedIn and offering a letter of recommendation. Refer them if you hear of other opportunities in the future. Maintain an intentional relationship with them beyond the internship. Grab coffee. Talk about the changes in your field. You never know when you need to rely on one another.
Internships present an exciting opportunity. Get engaged and see for yourself. What advice would you add to my thoughts?