Sweet summer of 2016

Sep 26, 2016

Did your interns live the dream? If so, great, but if not, it might be time to retool your program by taking these six simple steps.

As a communications major with an interest in broadcast journalism, my first summer internship was at a large television station where I was immersed in the hustle and bustle of reporters and police scanners. It’s where I first learned the saying, “If it bleeds, it leads.” It’s also where I learned the media business is fierce and if I wanted a chance in the market, I had to have grit and be willing to trade my summer by the pool for several months of free labor. Thankfully, with monetary support from my folks and a pantry full of ramen noodles, I survived. But, even more than that, I had one of the most invaluable experiences of my career.

Today, there aren’t too many unpaid summer internships due to the Unpaid Labor Declaration Policy. Most companies, especially AEC firms, seem to compensate their college-age interns with a fair wage, but, beyond a paycheck, what are these future leaders yearning for in their summer experience? In early June, I sat down to talk with each of our 18 interns, ranging from college sophomores to graduate students. I asked questions about why they chose Little, what they wanted to accomplish this summer and what they were most looking forward to during their internship. Over the next several months, I watched them intently, feeling much like the paparazzi seeking a coveted photo of a Hollywood celebrity. I captured video of them in meetings, snapped hundreds of pictures, held a panel discussion with them and, before they departed for school, sat down with each of them once more to gauge whether their experience was all they had hoped for.

Through this comprehensive documentation, I found that the following six practices were beneficial for any intern, regardless of their age or career path.

  • Immerse them in your culture. Not only are interns truly interested in becoming part of your culture, they can help strengthen it. This generation of students wants to have a sense of belonging and have a passion for making a difference. Let them become fully immersed in your culture through events, client presentations and outings. A positive company culture will be the No. 1 reason these young leaders return for a full-time position upon graduating.
  • Apply the buddy system. Interns are known for having a multitude of questions, and it’s the job of those in the firm to answer them in as much detail as possible. Pair each intern with a young leader (perhaps someone outside of their day-to-day group who he/she wouldn’t get to know otherwise), to be a personal go-to resource – work-related or not – throughout the summer. You’ll be surprised what your young leader will also learn from the intern.
  • Allow them to explore. An internship lets students take their career plan for a test drive. The best experience, however, leads them off the beaten path by allowing them to explore other interests. For example, a student interested in architecture may also be intrigued by how digital animation can build powerful interactive tools of the buildings they design. An engineering student, on the other hand, may be interested in learning about how to optimize a building’s performance. Provide knowledge-packed lunch-and-learns that allow them to explore interests outside of what their college curriculum may provide.
  • Work hard, play hard. Build camaraderie between your interns and your young, emerging professionals. Whether or not we are willing to admit it, these are the folks in your office who know how to have the most fun. Let them plan parties, scavenger hunts, happy hours, and sporting events that create fun activities for your interns while providing opportunities for them to connect throughout the firm and the community.
  • Let them be the experts. During a summer internship, students spend the majority of their time listening and absorbing. It’s equally important, however, to reverse the roles and allow the interns to educate your leadership team. Little held a reverse mentoring discussion where the interns served as esteemed panelists and answered questions from various leaders related to the importance of company culture, the future of workspace, the role of social media in marketing/recruiting, and the myths of millennials.
  • Address their No. 1 fear. Discussions with this rising class of professionals revealed their primary fear after graduation is being underutilized, and therefore, restricted in the opportunity to grow their career. Put these fears to rest by involving them in valuable projects and creating opportunities for their input on important decisions. While their project expertise may be limited, a voice in the decision could go a long way in how they envision their future career.

The summer internship is a small window for interns to make a good impression. It’s also a small window for companies to make a good impression. These individuals could very well be future leaders at your firm, so take the time to carefully plan an intern program that allows them, and your company, to flourish.

Kelly Thompson is a senior associate and marketing communications manager at Little. Contact her at kthompson@littleonline.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.