What was your first internship? For many of us, now years removed from that type of learning experience, the question comes up as an icebreaker activity rather than a serious interview question. In fact, you might have risen to a level in your career that means you now find yourself managing interns.
While the benefits of internships to college students and young professionals are numerous, what about the benefits to companies and employees who work directly with interns? Here’s how businesses can help ensure their investment in interns is paying dividends for individual employees and the company as a whole.
The mutual benefits of internships: from a former intern to current director of marketing
Lincoln, Nebraska-based Jenny Sundberg serves as the director of marketing and strategic planning for Bryan Health. Sundberg and I first met when she was in college, and we got to know each other better when she served as an intern in my Chicago-based marketing department 13 years ago. Sundberg now works with interns herself at Bryan Health, and believes internships provide equal opportunities and benefits to both parties.
“At Bryan Health, we are fortunate to have longevity spanning years, and even decades,” Sundberg says. “Interns provide our organization with a fresh perspective on our industry, as many are consumers, and provide an inflow of talent.”
Sundberg explains that interns offer valuable input on process improvement and efficiencies, as well as bring diverse ideas to the table.
“We create and foster an environment for interns to challenge the status quo, pose questions and pressure test ideas,” Sundberg says. “Our leadership not only creates strong engagement through listening to the ideas of new employees and interns, but also provides opportunities to deploy them.”
CPS HR Consulting lists some of the same benefits as Sundberg, including the opportunity for businesses to gain brand advocates and build a talent pipeline. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ 2022 Internship & Co-Op Survey Report, just over 68% of 2020-2021 interns got a full-time offer after completing their internship.
“If you’ve created an internship program that nurtures the student, gives them impactful work and rewards their contribution to the organization, they’ll likely share their positive experiences with their peers, friends and family,” CPS HR Consulting wrote.
Individual employee benefits of working with interns
Perhaps your company has asked for help with its interns before, and you’ve been reluctant to raise your hand. You might think you don’t have enough bandwidth, or that someone that young and with much less experience might slow you down. However, it’s actually possible to reap many benefits by working with interns.
“Employees who work with our interns often gain fresh insights, empathy and understanding to a new generation—and an extra set of hands,” Sundberg says.
The Brad D. Smith Schools of Business at Marshall University list several benefits to working with interns for both companies and individual employees, including enhancing supervisory skills. And while not as formal as supervising interns, if you choose to serve as their mentor, that can build your leadership skills and even renew your knowledge of or appreciation for your role or industry.
How to make the experience smooth for both parties
For an internship to be considered successful, Sundberg believes it’s critical that the intern and employer develop an understanding of one another.
“For an employer, institutional knowledge can be both a blessing and a curse,” she says. “Make sure you step foot in your intern’s shoes and create a welcoming environment. This can include things as simple as showing them where the bathroom is on their first day to thoroughly walking them through important processes and introducing them to key individuals they’ll engage with during their internship. Meet-and-greets, lunches and invitations to team meetings can help build engagement from the beginning.”
As for how an intern can ensure a successful experience?
“For an intern, it’s important to ask questions, to also not assume and to respect the employers’ other obligations within their role,” Sundberg says. “It can be intimidating to speak up when you’re unsure or need more information to be successful. Your employer will appreciate when you do.”
She adds that, at the end of the day, “Mutually, good communication between both parties is always key to ensuring a successful and smooth experience.”
Jill McDonnell is a Chicago-based content writer and communications professional. She has a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller novel.