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Hire smart interns.

Hire smart interns.

EACE Blog contribution by Teresa Olsen, Director of Operations and Strategic Planning at Colgate University Center for Career Services

intern-seniorIf there is one budget line that my institution will have to pry out of my cold, dead, hands, it would be for my student interns. Let that sink in for a minute. Student interns, really? Absolutely. Not programming, toilet paper (thank goodness that one is covered out of the divisional budget), or printing. Ok, in complete disclosure I’d go to the mat for each of those, but here’s where my conviction on interns comes from.

Let’s just say, if my ability to pay my interns ever goes away, I’d fail the DOL’s six-pronged test miserably. In fact, my internships are intentionally designed that way. Frankly, I want the student to get as much out of the experience as I am getting out of them. Yes, it’s about creating a dynamic under which they are going to learn extensively, but I am also counting on them to move some of our core priorities forward, and, with any luck, to teach me a great deal in the process.

I have supervised many interns. Some don’t work out just the way you anticipate. You know…the student whom you interview that you know has some hidden talent, some raw potential that you just couldn’t put your finger on. And then four to nine months later

you are still hoping that potential comes out. But, conversely, when you hire a good one, it is a game changer. You gain another colleague…if you do it right. As we launch into the academic year, or as you think through pitching your budgets for next year, I wanted to share a few key ideas about supervising interns that seemed to get me out of first gear.

First, be sure you have a defined, realistic, role for your intern(s). It will be far easier to train them up, for them to catch on, and for you to evaluate their performance (yes, I do semesterly reviews of them) if you have a specific job description to refer back to. Have some concrete, interesting projects in mind that are ability/knowledge-appropriate, fit within the time commitment the student can give you, and sync to the time frame under which your results are due. Build in a bubble at first, as you both will need some time to get it right.

Secondly – from day one – set the expectation that your interns are colleagues. Hold them to the same standards that you would any other professional staff member, whether it is regarding punctuality, dress code, or consistently expecting the highest quality of work they can offer. Let them know you expect them to contribute ideas to discussions and insert themselves appropriately when they see an opportunity. Likewise, you need show a good investment in them. Similar to any other young professional, you cannot drop them into their role without adequate training and consistent supervision. This is not a passive experience on either end. Help them bring the best version of their professional selves by role modeling your best example of collegiality. A rising tide lifts all boats, so not only will they thank you for setting the bar high, but their example will rub off on their peers. And even better, you are now training your future alumni in how to incorporate their future interns.

Finally, be vulnerable. This may be the scariest part of supervision, but the most rewarding. I often tell my team that I am good at hiring people who are smarter, more skilled, and more dialed-in than I am. I can’t do it all, nor am I omniscient. Some of my best progress with interns has happened when I asked for their feedback and engaged in a dialogue that worked openly through their constructive criticism. Chances are that once your intern is trained up, their fresh eyes can give you the perspective you need to troubleshoot a challenge, to illuminate a skill they can contribute, or to even make you a more effective team member. Once your interns see you validate their input – even if you may need to re-frame it to incorporate the bigger picture – you have opened up the opportunity for them to take ownership of their tasks and find ways to contribute to your larger priorities.

Olsen-TeresaTeresa Olsen draws from over thirteen years of experience in career services at Colby College, Dartmouth College, and Indiana University prior to joining Colgate’s senior leadership team. In addition to her position at Colgate, she serves as the executive chair of the Liberal Arts Career NetWORK, a consortium of 37 selective liberal arts colleges, and is an independent external reviewer of career centers. She was recently awarded the 2014 NACE Excellence Award for Colgate’s SophoMORE Connections initiative. Teresa holds a BA from Colby College and an MS in higher education administration from Indiana University.  Her research interests include liberal arts students’ career launch, career development for student-athletes and underrepresented populations, and the assessment of career centers’ effectiveness. 


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