Intern life sucks. We’ve all seen the overdone intern trope across media: an awkward college kid filing papers, grabbing coffee, running dry cleaning and other errands until they leave and a fresh ‘newbie’ comes in. In reality, the business world’s interns aren’t awkward errand boys but they probably are entering data for countless hours and shadowing crowded tele-meetings where they neither learn nor contribute anything.
Many professionally and academically talented interns walk into an office and face the ‘intern work,’ also known as the tedious ‘no-one-else-wants-this work.’ 20 to 40 hours a week, and all the menial work that needs to be done gets done. Little to no practical knowledge is gained, but that’s intern life, right?
I’ve always believed that this is a great way to get menial work done—and an even better way to waste great potential.
In a very vague look at history, we can comfortably say that internships were created to mirror apprenticeships in trade guilds of old, the youthful apprentice learning practical skills from the seasoned journeyman. In a similar vein, internships were intended to teach the intern the skills that a traditional classroom wouldn’t be able to teach. Ideally, interns are apprentices of the modern world, learning our trades from skilled employers.
Then, somewhere along the way, ‘work experience’ went from an opportunity to test an intern’s mettle to sitting in a cubicle and doing mind-numbing work. Now, there are internships that require ‘work experience’ to gain more ‘work experience’.
Hark! There is a way to head back to the good old days of growth in the workplace for an intern and the employees around them.
Each intern that enters an office is brand new and shiny—not yet tarnished by the red tape that will face them in the future. This means that they can be molded, taught, inspired, and mentored. We are mentees seeking guidance of expert mentors.
What each intern wants and needs is a mentor. Not just a manager to supervise them, but an invested mentor who will support and encourage growth. A skilled ‘tradesman’ to show them the ropes and fight for the apprentice’s growth. We want guidance—not just to be thrown into a slush pile of ‘busy work.’
This solution is incredibly cost effective: all that needs to happen is a team wide email that asks for volunteers to help a wee business child find their space in the market. Many talented employees were born to mentor and would love to do so. A mentorship is mutually beneficial—the intern gets the opportunity to learn from a seasoned professional, and the mentor enjoys the privilege of sharing their knowledge with a fresh young mind. The mentor could spend just twenty minutes or a short lunch a week with their mentee, and a bond could be created. Not only will the mentor be able to pass on skills and tricks of the trade, but the mentee can come in with fresh ideas and feel comfortable enough to share them. If a small investment is desired, offering a budget for mentors to spend on mentees (such as joint lunches, coffee catch ups, and such) can help motivate mentors to step up to the plate.
For my own growth and use of my time, I refuse to enter an internship where I am not being mentored I would only hope that wherever I choose to intern, they refuse to take anything but an enthusiastic mentee.
When an intern comes in, the questions revolve around what they are studying and where their path for the future will take them. I believe that an intern should be treated as a fledgling professional. An established professional takes on a new role to expand, to grow, and to learn. So does an intern.
I, as an intern, want to do well at my company. I, as an intern, want to prove my worth. Most importantly, I, as an intern, want to collaborate on work that garners praise.
I lucked out with my mentor and my supervisor. They asked me: What do you want to learn? What do you want to try? What do you want to do? These questions create ownership of the position. My mentor helped me socialize into the office and hash out some ideas that I then brought higher up for approval, as well as answered questions beyond the limitations of my tasks.
My supervisor continues to check if I am growing, and if I have ideas that could be of value. I find that I am continually challenged—and that’s how it should be. I am able to take ownership because I was given a coach in my corner to train me against the mediocrity of doing exactly as told for weeks on end.
Interns don’t lack motivation or ability (after all, we did get hired, didn’t we?), nor do we need costly investments—we just need a mentor who acknowledges and builds upon our value.
Social Media Community Manager Intern
Collector of fountain pens. Master of the art of the handshake. Believes business can do good, and intends to market to better the world.
Copywriting and concert fanatic. Unrepentant seltzer water and sushi addict. Was actually the kid who brought stray animals home.