Intern Learn

As this summer comes to an end it’s time to say goodbye to a great group of interns (we had FOUR this summer). One of the most rewarding aspects of our work at Start-Thinking is offering interns a small taste of the life of a professional communicator while developing them in ways that will help launch their young careers.

A primary focus of our intern program is including them in the team. Whether it’s participation in our three-times weekly group fitness sessions with Robbie Ray or devouring a large salad that was made with ingredients from our CSA program (okay, and admittedly some mint brownies about once a month) we make a conscious effort to help the interns realize they are part of a professional team.

This summer, Kristen and I developed a concept we call (she’s the one who came up with the clever name)  “Intern Learn.” We set a regular time for the entire team to gather for an hour to discuss events, trends and issues in all communication disciplines. Topics included the buzz around Old Spice, the decision by Ben and Jerry’s to move the bulk of their customer service away from phone and email and onto social media platforms, as well as more practical subjects like the importance of knowing and using Excel and tips on how to develop a resume and use social media to get a job.

This was also the time period during which each intern, as requirement of their internship, gave a 10-minute presentation to the rest of the group. This practice offers interns the experience of researching and developing a presentation that is relevant to our profession. This year we had four outstanding presentations that helped each of us learn from each other while demonstrating the thought leadership of our young colleagues.

The entire topic of interns has received a lot of attention in the past year. Due to economic challenges, many agencies have eliminated their intern programs (most people don’t realize how much managing interns cuts into billable hours). We thought about it but we’re too committed to ensuring a bright future for our profession not to continue to invest in interns.

A big part of the intern discussion is the To Pay or Not to Pay issue. For a variety of reasons, we have never paid our interns, other than by exposing them to experiences, opportunities, resources and people that they may have not otherwise come into contact with. I am comfortable with this decision because our interns  work a reasonable schedule (16 – 20 hours per week), do not perform billable work or otherwise substitute for a paid employee and because our program is not a testing or training program for eventual employees (only one Start-Thinking intern has become an employee).

This fall, Kristen and I will be formalizing our intern program a bit more (thanks to Dana Hughens at Clairemont Communications in Raleigh for inspiring us with her TLC intern curriculum). Whether your perspective is that of a current or former intern or that of someone who works with or supervises interns, we welcome your feedback and ideas.