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The Importance of Professional Development During an Internship

Written by Val Terrell

Full-time employees have access to mentoring, skill training, affinity groups, and other resources that allow them to take away more than just a paycheck. Offer the same amenities to interns, as you do full-time employees.   Encourage interns to take advantage of all your company provides, in addition to their standard projects. By investing in their interns, a company is grooming young talent into the future leadership of the organization.

High achievers have high expectations

In order to recruit and retain top talent, employers must offer amenities that other companies do not.  With each generation, the level of engagement in the workplace has decreased, with millennials emerging at only 16%. Engagement of the younger generation is crucial for employers who wish to gain and retain the best and the brightest of this large group.  Create an environment in which interns feel supported and equipped to succeed.  Begin with engagement in the workspace; initiate collaboration by seating interns near employees or other interns.  Compile meaningful projects for them to complete independently, in addition to work which provides exposure to other teams and business lines. If an intern is performing well, position them in a place to showcase their contributions. Allow interns to shadow employees in different roles to discover how their skills can be applied in various functions of the business.  Offer interns a seat at the table; welcome their fresh perspective to identify areas of improvement within the company. While internships typically only last a few months, there are multitudes of ways interns can add value and take away a breadth of experience.

An internship is an exchange­ of services; offer more than assignments

Interns are often cast as seasonal employees hired to complete a specific project, or to serve as an extra body to help a team meet their goals for the quarter. An intern is not a contract worker or temp; students pursuing internships seek a well-rounded experience which provides tangible results of their hard work, and personal and professional growth.  To truly complete the “exchange,” companies should offer opportunities in leadership, mentorship, volunteerism, and networking opportunities to interns. As an intern, I participated in an offsite volunteer project among a group of full-time employees. In the weeks following the volunteer experience, different employees would introduce themselves to me, inquiring about my projects and experiences. These introductions led to conversations over coffee and invitations to lunch. I realized that because I made a lasting first impression during the volunteer project; employees returned to work and spoke positively of me to their teams. I built connections to create my first workplace network, gaining exposure that eventually established my roots within the company.

Where to begin?

My volunteer experience certainly kick started my professional network. While not all companies have the resources to accommodate volunteer teams, companies of all sizes have one resource in common: employees.  Pair an intern with an employee who can serve as an active and engaged mentor.  A mentor can support the intern from all ends of the spectrum, whether it is an introduction to a colleague, or advice on pursuing opportunities within the company. My mentor suggested leadership opportunities outside of my department, she knew my skills and interests, and advocated for me when I was not in the room.  With her recommendation, I was invited to sit on a company-wide project team. I presented my contributions in meetings with company leadership, ensuring everyone in the room knew my name.

If your company is smaller, pursue development opportunities outside of the office for interns to attend with employees. Seek membership in local organizations who facilitate civic engagement programs for young professionals. Keynote speakers, workshops, and networking mixers will promote developmental skills vital to the workforce. As an intern, I attended networking and development events hosted by the city’s civic engagement center. Those events taught me how to maximize interactions, and are the reason I never shy away from an opportunity to connect with other professionals.

Professional development is important because it cultivates an air of learning and progression. A company that values professional development enables interns to “grow up” in the company’s culture and complete the internship with experience ranging far beyond their projects.  An intern will never forget their interaction with the CEO at the networking mixer, or the first time their mentor invited them out to lunch. By going the extra mile, companies can create a mutually beneficial opportunity. The outcome of positive internship experience is favorable for both the intern and the company.

 

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland or the Federal Reserve System.

1 Comment

  • Kristy Hubert August 14, 2017 Reply

    Giving interns meaningful independent projects is key! I agree with this 100%.

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