Over the years, numerous student interns have blessed us with their skills, their passions and their personalities. Every internship experience is different, but every single time we cherish those moments when we get to help someone explore and grow.
In honor of our most recent intern who graduated college this week, we took a few minutes to reflect on why we hire interns and how we benefit from these relationships.
Q: Why did you decide to bring interns onto your team?
Rachel: It’s a valuable experience for us to create a work plan that mutually benefits both us and the student. In addition, one of Anita’s strengths is developing others. She’s gifted at creating experiences that build on the skills an interns brings to our team.
Q: How do you structure your program so that the intern gets a valuable experience?
Rachel: We intentionally match what we need done with the interest of the intern. Everyone has a better experience when the intern is confident enough to be curious and explore. When we find activities and projects that they’re interested in, we all benefit.
Q: What do you gain by bringing interns onto the team?
Anita: We love having the opportunity to mentor a student and to pass on what others have done for us. It’s a way to honor those who have taken the time to mentor us. We also can’t help but get drawn into the enthusiasm every intern brings to our office. Their new and fresh ideas keep us engaged.
Q: How have you found your interns?
Rachel: Most of our interns have been students at North Dakota State University, Concordia and Minnesota State University Moorhead. We’re not afraid to ask for referrals from professors, other professionals, student association and even other interns. We tend to find better fits for our team when we rely on word-of-mouth.
Q: Any suggestions for other small businesses who want to hire an intern?
Rachel: Define goals and expectations. Clearly establish how and when you want the intern to communicate, whether that’s finished work or questions they need answered. We believe that it’s important to share experiences and to invest in them. Go ahead and send them to a training session or networking event. This is our chance to show them that we see their possibilities. We also embrace their ideas by listening and riffing off what they share. Nothing says respect like showing enthusiasm for someone’s suggestion.
Q: What’s your best intern story?
Anita: It is so amazing to watch all of our interns grow and do amazing things. One of our former interns now works at the National Defense Industrial Association as a communications and special events associate. She interned with us, got a job after college and later served as a volunteer on our Women’s Health Conference planning committee before moving to the Washington, D.C., area.
Rachel: I loved having Kene Okigbo work with us. He brought so many good things to our team: curiosity, a willingness to share his ideas, energy, enthusiasm and tenacity. I was so energized by his ideas and work.
Q: Were you an intern? How did that experience help you?
Anita: In college, I interned with Women's Business Institute and put on the Women's Expo, a conference for women entrepreneurs and small business owners. Lily Tomlin was the keynote speaker. During that experience, I learned many valuable lessons from my mentor, Penny Retzer. The first was that no matter what role or title you have at a company, you always need to be willing to stuff envelopes. It was a good reminder that sometimes things just need to get done – even if they’re not glamorous or fun.
I am still in contact with Penny and, likewise, I'm still in contact with some of the interns I've overseen. Those relationships are gifts you can’t replace.