How Can I Get the Best Out of My Summer Interns?

Ask Brad: For Starters, Limit the Freebies and Make Them Actually Work

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Flowers are in full bloom, season finales are dominating the airwaves, and the end of the school year is upon us. That can mean only one thing: It's intern season!

Interns can be an incredibly valuable resource. They can provide fresh ideas and perspective, they can deliver solid work and they can even take the burden off an overworked staff. Unfortunately, most intern experiences are wasted. If you want to make the most of the summer -- for you and for them -- here's what you should do:


I conduct a workshop for interns and new hires called "Your First 500 Days." Over the course of the summer, I work with hundreds of interns across companies big and small helping them make the transition from student to professional.

Brad Karsh
Brad Karsh is president of JobBound and JB Training Solutions. He spent 15 years at Leo Burnett in Chicago.
Half of the interns I work with complain that they have nothing to do. They sit at their desks and surf the internet, wasting away the summer. Why? Most of the managers I encounter say they don't have time to teach their interns anything or give them work to do.

Don't fall into that trap. Today's students are high-achieving, goal-oriented contributors. If you spend the first week training, mentoring and teaching them, you'll be rewarded with solid work and significant contributions across the remaining nine weeks.


I know of creative interns who have sold entire campaigns, account interns who have delivered client presentations and media interns who have developed and sold digital-media plans. Throw them into the mix and see what they can do.

Offer a summer-long intern a project or case study. You know that "to do" you've had on your list forever? You've been meaning to figure out how to enhance your online presence and check out how to sell your brand on Facebook or YouTube. Give that project to an intern.


There's no better way for you to determine if an employee is the right fit. Three months in the office definitely beats a 45-minute phone interview.

Eighty-five percent of companies use internships as a steppingstone to full-time hiring. Don't get left out.


At my former company, we'd take interns to Cubs games, treat them to Second City tickets or whisk them away on a Chicago River boat cruise.

The goal was to impress them so that they'd want to come back and work after graduation. They did -- to jobs that were oh, so different. We ended up having a huge attrition problem with our former interns. As they left, we'd hear things like "Where were the free lunches and Cubs games?" They really had no idea what the job was going to be like.

Now, I'm not suggesting you make them work in a dungeon for the summer, but the best way to tell if they will thrive in the job is to make it realistic.

Treat them like you would any new employees and see how they perform. You may have to get your own coffee, but you also may end up with some great ideas from a potential new hire.
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