Summer (okay, maybe not this summer, but most summers) mean an influx of interns to organizations. These organizations might be event owners such as national governing bodies or tournament management companies, or they might be convention and visitors bureaus or sports commissions. And the interns generally come from colleges, where they’re studying sports management or hospitality or similar programs.
And in general, the term, intern, may bring to mind help and workload relief at a low cost (or in some cases, no cost) and obviously, that’s a great thing for all of us. But the old saying, “you only get out what you put in,” applies here. If you want to assure a successful experience for both employer and intern, you have to create one. The purpose of this article is to give pointers on that.
Unfortunately, for many organizations, since summer is a busy time, it is easy to procrastinate when it comes to making preparations for a successful internship program. That leads to an unsatisfying experience for the intern, who feels as though they are viewed as not having a role in the office. And that, let’s face it, defeats the purpose of the internship for both parties.
The best way to avoid that scenario is to start immediately in making a plan for the intern’s work. The first thing to do is find out what the intern’s course of study is, as that may assist you in developing tasks that both of you will find beneficial. If, for example, the student is majoring in sports management and is concentrating on marketing, that gives you a jumping-off point in helping to identify activities for them.
Some basics to start with for the employer are as follows: What are your needs as an organization? Can you pay the intern, and if so, how much? What qualifications are required? How long is the internship? What hours will the internship be? Will weekend work be included? All these should be outlined in advance. Talk with your staff. Who has a bit too much work and would like to offload it – provided they can teach someone else how to do it? What events are coming up that will involve a lot of man-hours? What tasks will be involved?
Invite the intern (or prospective intern) for an interview, ask for a resume and, if applicable, a salary discussion. During this process, you can determine if the applicant is a good fit for what is needed. Some students are looking for an internship to check off the college credit box. Others are looking for an internship for a resume-builder, for real work experience or as a stepping stone to a full-time job. Also, some are looking to become civically involved.
For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume the person is a good fit and we’ve taken them on as an intern. An orientation should be done with the intern, explaining the office procedures and introductions to the staff. Show them their workstation, explain the dress code, discuss the hours, and fill them in on any perks they may enjoy at your workplace. Encourage them to ask questions. If an H.R. person or other employee will be their main contact, make sure they know how to get in touch with that person.
A large responsibility is taken on when you hire an intern. In Abilene, we feel a responsibility to provide “real life” experiences, challenges and successes, all of which will happen with each event.
Have a specific project or projects for an intern and make sure they are comfortable with them. For example, if their job is to make phone calls for you, make sure they have a script for those calls. (That means you should prepare the script in advance and let them rehearse a call with you). The tasks an intern does can be varied or specific i.e., marketing, event planning or event implementation. Having a defined list of the organization’s overall expectations on a spreadsheet, with a timeline of what needs to happen by when, is a great asset to major events we work on and typically use interns for.
There are plenty of dos and don’ts for employers, but we think the most important of these are the following:
Do create tasks the intern can do. These may not always be high-level jobs but they should contribute to the organization as a whole. The intern should be included in staff meetings (after all, they are a member of the team for the duration) and perhaps brought along on out-of-office meetings, such as sales calls or meetings with vendors. While the intern can take care of things like assembling gift bags and attaching lanyards to badges, “busy work” should not be their only function. Remember, you are trying to give them an experience they find interesting and useful, and one that will help them move forward in their chosen career.
Don’t make the intern feel like they are not welcome. Sometimes, the presence of another person in the office can feel disruptive, but try to avoid that by providing tasks the person can do immediately and including them in the decision-making processes of your organization. Having an extra person will come in awfully handy during your busy season; all you have to do is help the process along. And remember that an intern can take something that is presented to them and give a new perspective and possibly make an event or project better. The best way to look at having an intern is added value to your organization.
The intern perspective is just as important. We like to tell our interns the following – and we encourage all organizations to do the same:
Interns should know in advance the type of experience they are looking for. At the same time, they should keep an open mind. If, for example, they are interning with a sports commission or CVB, it’s likely they will be exposed to a wide range of duties and activities. We tell them, maybe you weren’t expecting to find a job after college in sales, but if an employer at your internship asks you to come along on a sales call, go! It will be an experience you can bring up when interviewing for a permanent job after graduation.
We encourage interns to be honest about how much time they can put toward their internship. If they are working a part-time job, we want to know at the outset so that they do not accidentally get booked to work at an inopportune time. (We can’t say which should take priority – the job or the internship – but either way, they will need to set boundaries for each).
An important aspect of internships is making contacts at the company while working. We encourage our interns to collect business cards and to ask questions. Find out what people do and how they got their job. What experience did they have? What do they like (and not like) about their position? (And what can they as an intern do to help them out with the tasks they don’t like?)
As an intern, there is a lot to learn from the organization, and the best way to do that is to volunteer to learn. Ask how that organization plans or brings in events and how it generates revenue. Find out how it calculates economic impact for events being produced. If you can write or proofread documents like press releases, reports or other materials, offer to do that. The more you can do, the more you can learn and the more valuable you become to the organization.
Throughout an internship there are connections being made to help the intern as well as the employer. The employer is receiving extra help for an event or project. An intern is making a name for themselves and meeting other professionals in the industry. When an organization and an intern work together, there are dual benefits for both.
And in case you’re wondering why it is we make such a strong attempt to see both sides of the intern/employer relationship, we’d like to leave you with this: Tiffany Nichols, co-author of this article, started out as an intern at the Abilene CVB and is now a full-time staff member. SDM