Carey Mott is a student at UC-Boulder and has been interning for PaySimple since October 2013. Before he ends his time on the team, he took a look back at his experience to write about what he learned working for a growing company.
Interning is supposed to be about give-and-take. In my 8 months helping the marketing, customer care, and product teams I gave them about 10-15 hours of my week, but I took back so much more than that in terms of lessons, ideas, and tips that will stick with me as I start my next adventure. If you are considering hiring a summer intern for your business, here are some tips on how to give back (and get) the most with an intern for your business.
- Encourage Listening: Some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned at PaySimple are from listening. Some may call it eavesdropping — I call it being aware of what’s going on around you. The marketing and product development departments gave me a plethora of acronyms and a brand-new vocabulary of technical and strategic terms. Without this awareness, I would have no idea that funnels aren’t just cooking tools, sticky marketing isn’t a mess, and people don’t SWOT flies. An internship position can be better than a class as students look for real life experiences that the classroom can’t offer. But be sure to offer some guidance and channel your inner professor—they can’t navigate this new field alone, and their experience will benefit you both if you supplement that experiential learning with some textbook learning.
- Go down to their level so they can get up to yours. Interns need to be reminded that whatever it is they’re doing is adding value to the company—that should be a no-brainer. In most cases they are being paid minimum wage (or less) to do the work no one else wants to do. But beyond showing appreciation, show them that what they’re learning on the job is useful to them. For instance, Excel is the bane of the intern’s existence; it provides endless hours of data entry and inevitable frustration. However, the functions, tools, and strategies I learned from PaySimple’s marketing department, I later carried over to requests from the customer care department. I expedited data entry with formulas I wouldn’t have thought to use and cut project time in half! Now I use those same tools to better manage my personal finances and create itineraries and budgets for trips. This cross-discipline learning and its applicability needs to be encouraged.
- Make yourself available. Just ten minutes a week to answer questions can make an enormous difference. An intern may not have questions ready the next time they pass you in the office or you assign a project, but set aside a small bit of time each week and encourage them to come up with questions and bring them then. It will encourage an uninquisitive intern to become actively engaged and it will provide the curious intern an outlet and a resource. In return, you get a more productive worker, a budding professional relationship, and an ego-boost as you share your vast knowledge.
- Positive reinforcement. When I made a significant blunder within my first three weeks in marketing, I was already beating myself up over it when my supervisor, Kristin, came across the office. As I prepped myself for a flogging, Kristin explained the situation, how it went wrong, how to prevent it, and then recognized and complimented everything I was doing right. By sticking to positive reinforcement, she made me a more dedicated employee and a more careful worker. I started taking notes on every step I took in a project, kept a time sheet to track how long was spent on each assignment, and always asked if I was hesitant about anything. Had she given in to her passions, I might have quit, or worse, become disengaged and produced lackluster work. Positive reinforcement doesn’t mean you can’t discipline wrongdoing, but be conscientious of how you do it.
- Help them get to know the company. Interns only intern for a few reasons: interest in the industry, the company, or their resume. They’re trying to learn and be recognized, and ultimately build a network they can go back to later. Encourage them to stop into an office and ask how that person landed that job, their background, and steps to take while you’re young. Some of the best career advice I received was to go ahead and write or call those people you have no right to be contacting: the CEO’s, presidents, and entrepreneurs who are way out of your league. I asked the CEO of PaySimple, Eric Remer, out to lunch one spring day. The following fall I started my 8 month internship, a position I created for the company.
You can’t always tell an intern how to think or get them engaged, but you can encourage them. If you keep stoking the fire that keeps them going, then you both will benefit from the experience.