An internship is a critical part of any career. The right opportunity can prepare you for a career in the fast lane of life, and that’s no exaggeration. We all know that personality, connections, references, networking abilities, and positive relationships all play a part in career success as well. Securing a good internship is everything to a recent grad seeking an entry-level opportunity. However, as important as internships are, they are mismanaged frequently.

I remember all the buzz and concern about securing an internship as I completed my degree. Everyone in my class was looking for the best one, and in fact gaining an internship was a requirement to actually complete the degree.

There were about 25 of us seeking internships, but only about 10 major companies were offering top-notch internships. Of course, everyone wanted a paid internship, because they are the best. However, a non-paid internship with the right company was just as valuable. Once the top internships were awarded, the remaining students tried to find anything that would fulfill their graduation requirements.

After summer break was over and the internships were completed, we would talk about our experiences. Obviously, everyone wanted to hear about the students who had to relocate for the summer to be part of a Fortune 500 internship. We wanted to hear about the “real world” projects they were able to do. During these conversations, however, one thing became clear: most top companies do not use their interns effectively!

You’ve probably heard about the rookie treatment on a sports team. Often, the rookies have to get donuts, buy lunches, pick up dry cleaning, run errands, or get coffee as a form of hazing. These menial tasks are all about the tradition of making a first-year team member earn respect while learning the ropes. In most cases this treatment is harmless, but the sports world and the daily work world are different. Companies that misuse potential talent for menial tasks could be doing more damage to the brand than they realize; using smart, eager, and driven interns ineffectively can hinder these companies’ efforts to stay current and relevant.

Going back to my college stories, we were surprised when we learned some top companies used HR interns as office goffers, personal assistants, and mailroom clerks. Not only was this a totally waste, but it was embarrassing! Each year a handful of students would lodge complaints with Student Services regarding bad internship experiences. The school would then investigate to determine if the experience was a constant issue, an anomaly, or just a bad match.

Like anything else in life, if you do something bad long enough, the word gets out and soon becomes your reputation. As an employer of future talent, you do not want a reputation of being a lousy company to your interns.

I greatly appreciated two points from a LinkedIn article published by David Beebe, Vice President of Global Creative and Content Marketing at Marriott International, entitled “Why Your Intern Shouldn’t Be Getting You Coffee.”

Regarding interns, Beebe encourages companies to ‘>“Be prepared for their arrival.” This is true; returning to my college illustrations, we talked badly about companies who had us sitting around for days or weeks with nothing to do. The only thing worse than using an intern for errands and mindless tasks is not using them at all.

Beebe’s next point that I greatly appreciated was to ‘>“Engage company leaders in your program.” This may sound obvious, but you should make absolutely sure the boss and the boss’ boss know the interns are coming. They should be properly introduced to let the interns know that company leaders are looking forward to seeing how they perform. Perhaps company leaders may even give interns a project or two. If we’ve learned nothing else from engagement surveys, it’s that people love to do challenging work and to be recognized (not marginalized).

Chris Fields

Chris Fields is an HR professional and expert resume writer with more than 13 years of experience as a former practitioner and current HR consultant. He is the curator of two websites: CostofWork.com and ResumeCrusade.com , and contributes HR-focused content to many others, including PerformanceICreate.com and SmartRecruiters.com . He has been listed by the Huffington Post as one of the “Top 100 Most Social Human Resources Experts to Follow on Twitter”, one of the “Top 40 under 40” by the HR Blogger Network, one of the “25 Must-Read HR Blogs in 2013”, and also featured on Oprah.com. He is very active with the Society of Human Resource Management, working closely with conference directors, communication chairs, and social media teams from Illinois, Oklahoma, and Tennessee to develop social strategies to engage attendees and enhance their conference experience. Chris earned his master’s degree in Labor and Human Resources from Ohio State University. In 2005, he moved back to his hometown of Memphis, TN, where he has developed a reputation for helping his clients create HR strategies, and individuals master the tough economic challenges of the South.

4 Comments

  • Avatar Christa P. says:

    As I always tell my friends, if you want somebody to do their work quickly and effectively, use interns! They are always trying to compensate for their lack of experience by working intensely and passionately. If we take into account that good interns are usually the best college graduates, we also can count on their intelligence. So for me, they are always good people to work with.

  • Avatar Mary S. says:

    “Misuse potential talent for menial tasks” – that’s exactly what I saw in a couple of companies I worked for. I also experienced that myself during the first years after college. Donuts and coffee tasks were my main sphere of training on my first job and an important part of the socializing process. Anyway, it’s a bad practice. If we are looking for young talents, we shouldn’t expect them to assist us as waiters.

  • Avatar Chris Fields says:

    Exactly, they are happy, energetic and eager to please. They aren’t jaded or set in their ways so why not use them effectively!

  • Avatar Lynda M. says:

    The value of internship is often overlooked by lots of companies, but what is the point in having interns if you don’t let them participate in meaningful work and contribute to it? Don’t ever let your laziness spoil such a great opportunity for both your company and your interns – make your coffee yourself!

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