Internships train new workers, provide extra help at the office
Shane Angus knows the value of a good internship.
As a business student at Western Washington University, Angus interned at Net Solutions North America during winter quarter 2006.
Halfway through the internship, the company offered him employment and he graduated the following quarter with a degree in management and a job as director of project management.
Now, Angus is the one overseeing interns for the company — usually one to three Western students per quarter.
Angus has discovered that the best interns are the ones much like he was — motivated, driven and professional.
But there are things that businesses and organizations can do to ensure an internship runs smoothly and successfully, too.
As the spring and summer intern season approaches, here are some tips and advice to make yours meaningful.
The benefits of an internship
Internships can be beneficial for both the student and the company or organization.
Students are able to explore a career path to find out if it suits them. An internship also offers networking opportunities, references and potential job offers, said Jan Adams, cooperative education/experiential learning coordinator for Whatcom Community College.
For companies, interns offer a low-cost labor source and exposure to new ideas and techniques gleaned from their studies. By teaching them, internship mentors are able to refine and clarify the company’s goals and methods, Adams said.
“Teaching is a good way to retain data,” she said. “When you’re teaching, you look at things from an outside light and get more light, because of the discovery on the part of the intern.”
The low-cost labor factor can be especially helpful for industries such as welding and healthcare, which have high demand for jobs, said Meagan Shea, director of career services at Bellingham Technical College. Having interns can also promote the company on campus, which is good for job recruitment, she added.
What makes a successful internship?
First things first — make sure you are hiring the right intern.
“It’s the same as hiring an employee, make sure it’s a good fit,” said Kristi Tyran, associate professor of management and intern supervisor at Western.
Students need clear planning and a clear perspective of what their goals are, Adams said. Write them down and go over them with the intern, but also be flexible in case they need to be tweaked, Adams said.
“Some interns have had to jump in and wander around and figure out what they have to do,” she said. “And then some (internships) are too tightly structured.”
Setting aside a few hours at the beginning of the internship to go over these goals and expectations is important, Angus said, or else you will make up for it later by constantly answering questions and giving explanations.
Angus has found that assigning an intern with one to three specific projects that have a definite start and finish date works best, rather than having them do odd jobs around the office.
Providing support to the intern is key to making the internship successful. Remember that this is a learning experience for the student — they should not just be filers and staplers, Adams said.
Good training will also make the internship more productive for the company, even if it can be time consuming, said Nicole Walker, broker/owner of Fairhaven Mortgage, which hosted a Western intern last year.
Justin Salva, a Whatcom Community College student, has interned twice at Comcast Spotlight, helping out with commercial productions. He echoed the sentiment about recognizing internships as being a learning experience for the student.
“We’re going to ask questions, and as long as there’s someone there to answer them, the business and the intern will have a good relationship,” he said.
Throughout the internship, students should journal about their experience and report to their internship adviser at school about what they are learning — a task that Adams said the school should hold them accountable for, not the business. But interns can also keep their employers updated about what they are learning and how the internship is going by weekly memo.
How much to pay
If the internship is in a competitive field, Adams said it is understandable if it is unpaid because interns know their experience results in a net benefit. For example, most healthcare internships are unpaid, she said.
And in some fields, like human services and education, it is generally accepted that those organizations can’t afford to pay interns, she said.
In industrial, science-based, computer and mechanical industries, employers should expect to offer paid internships, she said.
At the very least, those companies should pay the equivalent of the tuition the student is paying to take the internship.
Shea said that high-tech firms generally pay interns about $12 to $19 an hour.
Other advice for businesses
- Walker: Interview at least three people and make sure they are a good fit.
- Adams: If you don’t have the space or time, it’s wise to not host an internship.
- “If you don’t, then it will be really awkward and the intern will be handicapped,” she said. “You need to be able to plan enough to have the space and time to mentor them.”
- Adams: Interns need a mentor on the job. For example, you should not get a graphics design intern if you have no graphic design staff person to mentor them just because you need some design work done.
- Angus: Have several project ideas available for the intern and allow them to pick something of interest to them. “That will get their buy in — their ownership — from the beginning,” he said.
- Angus: Assign a specific individual to mentor and motivate the intern, a go-to person for questions.
- Angus: Provide a workspace for the intern and give them the tools they need to do their job successfully.
Interns available in spring, summer
How many interns will be available this spring and summer?
- Whatcom Community College: no official estimate for this year, but last spring about 90 to 100 students had internships and about 20 to 25 interned during the summer.
- Western Washington University: an estimated 30 to 40 students from the College of Business and Economics’ management, finance and marketing programs.
- Bellingham Technical College: couldn’t give an estimate, but the school’s welding, diesel, automotive, machining, culinary arts, healthcare and engineering departments all offer internship programs.