How to treat an intern

Young man standing in front of blackboard, with an idea bubble

Just like Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, interns are often given the grunt work of a company and treated poorly by their co-workers and supervisors. Here are a few points on how an intern should be treated.

The treatment of interns has become a hot topic in the media. While many interns come out of their internships having established career contacts, and having learned a range of vital skills and strategies that will benefit them in the future, not all interns end up with something to boast about on their resumes.

There are cases where interns felt the overall experience was unpleasant, having spent most their time slaving away at menial tasks such as folding tax invoices and tucking them into envelopes.

They’ve come out of internships feeling under-appreciated, and perhaps even a little empty, having gained very little from it.

So, if you’re thinking of taking on an intern, here are some useful points:

1. View the internship process as an important and intrinsic part of your practice and of the profession.

Internships should be a process that is mutually beneficial for staff members and for the intern. For the intern, the process should serve as a valuable steppingstone that helps them land future jobs.

But this does not mean that interns are the only ones to gain from working at a company. They play an integral role within a company, sharing many of the responsibilities that other staff members have, and contributing to the overall function of it.

While interns may lack industry experience, they are usually receiving the latest education in their field, so rather than dismissing them, be open to what they have to say and contribute.

Another useful thing to remember is that the intern is essentially the outsider-looking-in. This means that they are able to see the company and its operations from a fresh angle and as such, may be able to bring valuable insight on how to improve it.

2. Try to integrate your interns into all aspects of your practice.

Assigning them a diverse range of tasks helps the intern gain skills in multiple areas; and this way they can also contribute to many of the operations a company undertakes.

3. Respect interns as people and productive members of your staff.

They may be at the bottom of a company’s professional food chain, but there’s no need to look down on them and treat them as inferior. They deserve respect just like anyone else.

4. Don’t make interns do work that is not directly related to the professional experience they signed up for.

Remember interns are not there to run your personal errands. Many interns often end up with non-educational menial work such as coffee rounds, cleaning and tidying, folding letters, photocopying and even heavy lifting. So don’t exploit them! Get them working on projects that need more focus, energy and enthusiasm.

5. Make yourself open to communication and provide your interns with guidance.

It’s important that you supervise your interns in an educational capacity, but that doesn’t mean you need to watch them like a hawk. An internship is a learning process, and it’s difficult to learn without any guidance. It may take you away from your usual tasks, but you need dedicate some time to listening to your interns when they are struggling with a task and teaching them on how best to do it.

6. Interns should not be used for free labour. They are not there to displace regular workers.

Whether they are willing to admit it or not, many companies are using interns for free labour. Pretty sneaky isn’t it? Students often need to do internships as part of their course requirement, and companies need workers. It’s cost-effective for a company to take on interns as opposed to paid workers. So if that’s what you’re up to, please follow tips one to five.