Tips for Stellar Internships

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If you are like Rose-Hulman Ventures, your summer interns are in the final weeks of their internships before returning to colleges this fall. What have you done to ensure it has been a great experience for them and you?

At Ventures we employ dozens of student interns each year to work closely with our external clients on product development and innovation. Our business model has provided insights into working with interns and understanding what it takes to make an internship a win/win for the client and the student.

We should all want our interns to amass valuable real-world work experience and our clients — even if they are solely internal — to benefit from the fresh perspectives, boundless energy and strong work ethic the interns bring to their assignments. If we’re lucky, we might even discover a potential employee.

Based on my experience with scores of interns over the years, here are some suggestions for making your internships a success for everyone involved:

Harness Their Energy and Brains. Interns work better where energy and intelligence are important, not where experience is necessary. For example, it’s rare to find an intern who can contribute significantly to high-level design concepts. They simply lack the experience to know which ideas are practical, and which will run into trouble. However, if you create a high-level outline, you can use the raw horsepower of the interns to fill in the details.

Keep the Leash Short, at First. Interns need a lot of guidance, especially for the first few days.  Even after they seem to have their feet under them, you need to check in on them every hour or so to make sure they are still pointed in the right direction.

Teach the Basics – and Stand Back! Interns usually don’t have much practical knowledge, so you will probably have to teach them some very basic skills or techniques. This is especially true in industries that contain a lot of niche information. However, if you’ve selected bright, quick learners, they will surprise you with how fast, and how far they stretch their new skills.  A little investment teaching the basics pays off quickly.

You Reap What You Sow. If you take an intern, assign a project, and walk away for several days or weeks, you will get precisely what you put into the project—nothing.  However, if you put some meaningful effort into managing the interns, you will reap an appropriate return on your investment.

Leverage Your Experience. Anyone who has been in the workforce for very long will have amassed a wealth of knowledge that is uniquely their own. This is the stuff that seems so obvious to you, that you just assume everybody knows it. However, if you stop and think about it, why would a 20-year-old know (as in our situation) how O-ring sizing works, or why the technician down the hall gets grumpy when you fill the prototype PCB design with 0204 resistors? Don’t underestimate the importance of your years of knowledge.

Share Your War Stories. Your company wants the maximum output from an intern, but keep in mind that the intern’s goal is to learn. This is especially important if you see the intern as a potential full-time employee down the road. I make time to share past experiences with the interns and am often surprised by how closely they listen to my “war stories,” and how much of that information they internalize.

The bottom line is this: With a little investment of your time and energy, your internship experience will be productive and satisfying for all!

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