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Maximizing the Value of Internship Programs for Businesses and Students

Internship programmes come of age

Over the past two years, C&B has had an internship programme in place, which means that at any one time, there are three or four interns hard at work in our office. I personally get involved with the programme by interviewing candidates, mentoring and advising, and ensuring that their task list goes far beyond merely making copies and running errands (as is often the case in other companies).

I feel that all businesses — as part of their duty to be responsible citizens — should have something like this in place, because internship programmes are a win-win situation for both parties.

Interns gain insights into making career decisions, acquire valuable work experience in order to step onto the career ladder, find career mentors, and build their career network – all of which is typically missing from a university degree. Companies benefit too – they gain hardworking individuals who are eager to learn and contribute, a source of fresh ideas and sometimes useful different perspectives, a pipeline of potential new talent that has been thoroughly vetted, additional manpower, and the opportunity to give back to the community.

There is an ongoing debate around internships being paid or unpaid. I feel particularly strongly that internships should be paid positions. I believe this because we treat our interns as full-time employees – they are expected to adhere to a code of ethics, sign a contract, keep regular working hours, and behave and perform in accordance with the same set of standards as our hired staff. We recruit our interns using a similar filtering process to the one we employ for full-time recruiting, and they are evaluated on a weekly basis for performance, contribution and improvement. During our quarterly employee awards, where we gather to celebrate the colleagues who are ‘heroes’ among us, we also recognise an ‘intern of the quarter’.

How to turns interns into assets

I have a few thoughts to share on how we can turn interns into assets with the right approach.

Set expectations at the outset

It is likely that your office is your intern’s first experience of the business world. They will probably be freshly graduated and have no idea what a business expects from them. For this reason, you must make your expectations clear right from the start. Our interns sign a contract that outlines working hours, pay, expected duties, evaluation and reporting structure. Line managers are also responsible for setting their own team’s expectations of the interns. If you set the expectations up front, there will be little room for misunderstanding and problems down the road.

Include them

For interns and your business to get the most out of an internship role, interns should be treated as full-time staffers and included in as much of the team’s activity as possible. We give interns most of the tasks that an account executive-level employee would handle, which initially is an extremely steep learning curve, but means that interns quickly settle in as members of the team. As they progress, interns may attend client meetings, liaise directly with clients and media, and even help to shape campaigns. Of course, involvement depends on the client and the aptitude of each individual intern, but it should be initiated strongly internally and then rolled out externally if appropriate.

Teach them hard and soft skills

Most interns will join during or after they have finished higher education. They are keen to learn work skills and master the practices they need to progress their careers. So you must ensure that job skills training is part of the induction and orientation process. Don’t forget the soft skills that are normally not taught, but are all important, including how to behave in a client meeting, office conduct, rapport with colleagues, composing work emails, and expectations for office attire.

Regular feedback

Interns are here to learn, so in addition to up-front training, be sure to provide them with regular feedback across all areas of their role. Useful areas to evaluate include office behaviour, attention to detail, deadlines, improvements made and contributions to client requirements. Our interns are evaluated every week in a written submission by their line managers.

Line manager training

It is also a good idea to ensure that line managers who are supervising interns are given proper training on how to work with and manage them. While an intern should be made a full team member, it is important for line managers to remember that, for most interns, this role is their first stab at the business world. This means that training and mentoring are required throughout the internship.

Final advice

We’ve enjoyed tremendous success with our internship programme over the past few years, and it is firmly embedded in C&B’s culture and operations. We are extremely selective in the interns we bring on board, but we always have an enthusiastic and committed group of interns in the office. If you have one in place, make noise about it to be sure that potential interns are aware of it — there is a wealth of incredible young talent out there that is just waiting to make a strong contribution to your business.

Ross Bethell is the Director of Strategy of Cicero & Bernay Public Relations. An independent PR agency headquartered in Dubai and offering new-age public relations consultancy to the UAE and across the MENA region. |