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Erin Mikail Staples
Erin Mikail Staples

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My pet peeves on internship programs (as a college professor helping students pick internships)

It's Summer Internship Season...

... and that means I'm seeing some questionably ethical internships.

I'm a current adjunct professor in a Graduate Program, often working with 10-15 students to help them find internships, craft resumes, build portfolios, and navigate the ups (and downs) of your early career woes.

Before instructing at the graduate level, I built internship programs at Agencies, and helped students find their first internships + learn professional skills at the undergraduate level as well.

The biggest mistake most internship programs make is forgetting that students are students.

You're not hiring a seasoned professional. You're not hiring someone who's going to be a new member of your team. You're not hiring someone who is an expert in this field. You're hiring a student who has a desire to learn, and try something new, possibly even for the first time.

That doesn't mean that this student is inexperienced, lacks professional etiquette or expertise, or even can't help you learn a few tricks as well. What it does mean is that you must be patient and provide space and mentorship for a student to learn a skill.

Internship programs must come with clear learning objectives

If you can’t explicitly provide learning objectives and time to review learning objectives, you should not be hiring an intern.

Questions I often ask folks looking for an intern

  • What will someone learn through this internship?
  • How are you holding whomever is managing this intern accountable for what they will learn?
  • How is the interns success measured?
  • What is the end goal of the internship?

One thing to note — none of the above questions are focused around the employer themselves, they're focused around the student, as an internship should be.

Interns are legally entitled to being the primary beneficiary of an internship — meaning, they’re likely to slow you down a bit as part of their learning process. That's normal and expected.

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(Sorry all, the days of interns fetching coffee are no more).

What I love to see in internship programs!

I know that I've been a bit of a downer on internship programs, but there are a few things I love to see as well. Clear learning objectives and students getting their hands-on real world work is great! Learning how it works in an office, including attending meetings, systems and workflows, and making connections in different places in the workplace is awesome to see.

Furthermore, I love hearing stories of not only when students were hired and it worked out great — but also stories when students were able to try something new for the first time and realize it's not for them.

Remember, internships are learning experiences, and sometimes that learning experience is for someone to learn what you don't want to be when you grow up in a fairly uncommitted way.

I want to help students, but I don't have a budget or system in place for a true internship program.

I love to hear this — and to be realistic when it's not going to work out! Work with students in more of a mentor/mentee role, offer to review resumes, recommend to peers and colleagues, etc.

Even just giving feedback on projects or helping to meet for a coffee over "what it's like a day in my shoes" is always a good learning experience as well.

These experiences can be still mutually rewarding and a good experience for both the mentee and mentor.

Are you running an internship program? Have you had a particularly memorable internship?

I'd love to hear more about what worked (and what didn't).

Let me know by dropping a comment below or getting ahold of me on Twitter or Email.

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