INTERNSHIPS - August 2015

Today we send another intern out the door and back to school. Selfishly my goal in bringing interns aboard is to ultimately feel like we struck gold with the perfect candidate, and that on the flip side, the intern feels like they won the lottery. In the course of my long career I’ve had many interns who have met the standards I value in a potential employee. So what are the characteristics I look for? As well, what should an intern be looking for? As an owner, I am looking for three primary qualities:

I know that the tasks our interns will be doing at any given time will be beyond entry level, which means I desire candidates who can get excited about learning on the job. Mark my word; learning on the job is harder than it sounds. Not everyone can do it. It requires putting in extra time, being willing to ask questions, and being confident enough to make mistakes and learn from them.

Smaller organizations not only require the heart and souls of the owners and employees, but also interns who for a period of time will become part of the fabric. It requires belief in the mission of the company to work hard, to help come up with solutions, and to overcome the many obstacles that we’re bound to face. Since our interns are key members of the team, they need to believe in the mission, too. They need to be excited about our ideas. They need to be passionate about our success. They need to want to work for us more than any other company, even though they are temporary.

Of course, I expect an intern to fulfill the “basic” responsibilities—showing up on time, promptly responding to emails, finishing projects and hitting deadlines without my reminding. But my perfect intern is someone who goes above and beyond the basic requirements. I’m always impressed by a strong work ethic. And an intern who is full of ideas and excited to make things happen is the best. Our culture at Chisano Marketing Group is hard-working and creative. We take our work seriously, but we laugh a lot too. We expect each other to go above and beyond since we know that’s what it takes to succeed. I’m always looking for interns who fit our culture.

And what should an intern look for?

This should be the most influential criteria an intern leans on in choosing the company they learn from. Make sure you’ll fit. Make sure you meet more than the head guy or gal; while that head guy or gal should also invest in your internship experience, it is those on the front line who you will interact with most. Is there a positive vibe? Do you get the feeling that staff will give you time to learn and ask and try and fail? The internship should never ever be about free labor for the company. It should be about the company believing that that giving back to those new to business is an important aspect of its mission. Both parties need to be all in.

Ethically, an intern needs to believe in what the company stands for – how they operate…their moral compass. What is the reputation of firm? What do others think about the organization? What kind of press do they get? If no information exists, then ask those who work there about their past, their present. Ask employees how they view the company’s reputation. Listen, I realize it’s “only an internship”. Nonetheless you should treat the process as if you were seeking a job that you will be doing for the next 5 to 10 years; it’s part of the “getting prepared” process.

Too many companies relegate interns to answering phones, fetching the coffee, taking notes, getting the mail, going to the bank. And yes, while many of these mundane tasks are part of the “paying the dues” process, at least 80% of your involvement should be of real value to the company, and therefore to the intern. If you aren’t involved in real work that matters, then the learning curve diminishes dramatically. I have always been a believer that the best learning environment is one where your boss will throw you into the fire armed with tools to put the fire out, as well as lifelines for help as needed. You learn when it is real and when it matters. You need to hook up with a company that will allow you that opportunity and access.
Bottom line, an intern should be exposed to amazing opportunities of learning and growth, and the company should gain a dedicated resource who contributes value to the business. In other words, the perfect internship is mutually beneficial to both the company and the intern.

If you’re a student looking for the perfect internship know that a good match is out there, and don’t settle! When you talk to prospective companies, share what you hope to gain and what you hope to give. Find your perfect match. It’s out there, and it’s worth it!

Joe Bouch