We know having an intern is more than just doing a favor to your local colleges. It's also more than just getting free or cheap labor. It takes an effort to hire and manage interns.
A friend and colleague with her own PR firm recently offered up a blog post to help students do a better job of presenting themselves when seeking an internship. Called "How Not to Get an Internship," it recounted the unfortunate story of one enterprising student's sloppy cover letter.
I should say that professors and their college Career Services office do a lot of training to help students avoid embarrassing first professional encounters. We wish all students would put such advice to use, but we can't be ever-present.
I would also like to encourage employers to do a few things to ensure they get good interns, and to help us in education by reinforcing the standards we set for what an internship is. Here are a few suggestions:
- Remember that an internship is considered the application of concepts and skills learned in class. Some employers seem to take any available student--a "warm body"--without consideration of particular preparedness. Don't assume all college students are the same.
- Have a clear job description for your internship. If the student is doing an internship for credit, an appointed faculty internship supervisor will examine the job description to see if the student has met the course requirements to be ready to fulfill described internship duties.
- Have students formally apply, and interview them. Internships are job experiences, and that includes the interview and hiring process. It also protects employers and saves grief for faculty members. Ask students what year they are in college, which specific courses they have had that prepare them for the internship duties as defined.
- Supervise the intern. In PR this can be a challenge in some cases, because some employers hire a student PR intern precisely because they have no PR staff. In that case, it's especially important to hire an upper-level student who knows what PR is and how to do it. If you are a PR professional, remember that an internship is a bit of a trade-off--you get someone to help with the work load but you have to provide the oversight and assist them in this hands-on learning and application experience. Give candid feedback remembering that this is about the student learning.
- Pay them. This is a challenge for some, but even a stipend to cover gas, or a lump sum to help cover the tuition students pay if the internship is for credit. Remember that federal law says interns must be paid and/or getting credit or it is not an internship. They can have both, but if they have neither you have to call them a volunteer. Also remember that paid internships attract the best students.