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How-to Guide to Interns

Still not comfortable with the reality of millennials in the workplace? You may get your mind blown by the Generation Z cohort—your next class of interns. According to Forbes, Generation Z made up 25 percent of the U.S. population in 2015, making them a larger cohort than baby boomers or millennials.

Make no mistake about it: They're taking over.

Gen Z is accustomed to social media and technology, and well-prepared for a global business environment. Gen Z no longer wants just a job. They want a feeling of fulfillment and excitement that helps move the world forward. They're eager to be involved in their community and their futures. Before graduation, they'll be out in the world, searching how to take advantage of relevant professional opportunities to give them experience. They're hungry for intern/extern experiences. You'll likely be the one to give it to them.

How do you go about doing this?

1. Create an actual program. Bring interns into the fold of your organization. They'll rise to your expectations if you include them in your day-to-day. Get involved in the culture—this is your work family for at least a semester.

2. Define the process and assign a point person. Hold an orientation, teach the software and programs they will be using, demonstrate work through examples and templates. One of the most valuable items an intern can take away from this process is networking within your staff while working.

3. Make time for interns. They require a significant time investment. It takes about half of a manager's time on the job to teach, triage, edit, manage, direct, counsel and mentor. Get to know your interns: They're often working on confidential or sensitive information for you and your clients.

4. Intake goals and exit evaluations. Benchmark, like you would at a client intake. Create a quick inventory of skills your associates possess or audit their experiences to know what you've gotten yourself into—and to help measure their growth under your wing.

5. Advocate for them. Real life is a place they've only heard about. Sure, they'll do things that irritate you. They'll also surprise you, make you hone your craft, help you improve your process and strategic mindset, and make you question things you haven't thought about since you started this trade.

6. Give them more than they can handle. This is how trust is built. This is also how you impress your intern by allowing them to shine.

7. Mentor them. Realign their expectation of work product. They will not understand the context of NOT working for a grade; you have to be their client Sherpa—guide them to the proper work ethic.

8. Be patient. Be honest about their skill set and their lack. Be honest with your ability to teach someone something. Examine your process and pass along your successes and failures.

9. Give them a title and real responsibilities. The little things matter. If you practice inclusion, they will feel included.

10. Celebrate the successes and the failures. It's not always going to be rosy. The intern is still a student, at heart and in mind. There are nuances they don't yet understand or inherently know about office culture. Celebrate successes when they occur, and celebrate the failures. What did they learn? What did you learn? How can you fix the problem or eliminate it from happening again?

11. Remember, you were this age once. Be patient and be kind, but above all, be humble and helpful.

12. Stay in touch. Keep your former interns in the loop of job opportunities in the area, networking events, cocktail parties and the like. Perhaps even be friends! Keeping in touch, a la networking, is a great place to foster our profession long after the intern has left the building.

Written by Adrienne Wallace, professor in Advertising & Public Relations at Grand Valley State University and current public affairs Ph.D. candidate at Western Michigan University. This article orgiinally appeared in the August/September 2016 issue of West Michigan Woman magazine. 

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