Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
3 min Read
July 14, 2011

4 tips for working well with interns

Big Duck Intern

Greetings, gentle readers.

I’m Alisha, the copy intern here at Big Duck. I’ve been working at Duck HQ for about a month now, polishing my writing skills and upping my caffeine intake. So far my time here has been great, (and I would say that even if they weren’t showering me with free Metrocards). The folks here are smart and creative and generous with their baked goods. What’s not to love?

But this isn’t some shameless intern recruitment plug. (Although we are on the lookout…) This is about you, Do-Gooder, and interns can be a real boost to a nonprofit. Your organization gets the benefit of our creativity, energy, and manpower, and we get to build our resume. It’s a win-win-win-win-win.

Especially if you use us correctly.

Does that sound too ominous? I promise it’s not. But to help you avoid the dreaded Intern Horror Story, Here are four tips guaranteed to keep everybody happy.

1. Give us something to do.
It’s hard to be a boss. Not only do you have your own work to manage, you’ve also got this extra person hanging around waiting to be told what to do. But here’s the thing – we want to help you. Better yet – we can. One of the things I appreciate most about Dan, the Big Duck Copy Director, is that every day he has something for me to work on. At first the assignments were small, but it was all real work. Meaning, if he asked me to write copy for the Big Duck website, it wasn’t just practice – it was copy that he actually intended to use. Trusting that I could do more than data entry gave me a sense of purpose, and it showed Dan that I could be trusted to help out with bigger assignments (including some client work).


2. Find out our strengths.
A piece of advice: Never ask an intern what they’re good at. It’s an intimidating question and encourages exaggerating. Instead, ask them what they like to do. You’re bound to get a more honest answer, which can help you determine your intern’s skill set. (If a person loves to illustrate, chances are they’re going to be pretty good at it.) Pairing your intern with assignments that interest them leads to happiness, and a happy intern is a good intern.

Now, you may be asking, “Why should I care about my intern’s emotional state? Aren’t they here to bring me coffee and amuse me with their tiny faces?” Let me let you in on a little secret: interns talk. Make our experience a positive one and we will be spectacular brand ambassadors, talking up your organization to anyone who’ll listen. And who doesn’t like free advertising? Nobody, that’s who.

photo by: Martin Holtkamp

3. Feedback, feedback, feedback.
Dan gives great feedback – which isn’t to say that it’s always positive. (Trust me, the first few weeks were a steep learning curve.) Yes, he’s quick to point out what I do well, but more importantly, he treats my work with respect. If edits are needed, he takes the time to explain why the changes were made and listens if I disagree. This helps me feel like I’m part of the process, and part of the creative team, which makes me want to go the extra mile to produce stellar work.

I’m happy, Big Duck is happy. Win-win-win-win-win.

Feedback doesn’t have to be a big production, but it does need to be consistent. Aim for daily contact, if you can manage it.

4. Give them something to put on a resume.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this: interns want a job. Very possibly from you. If that’s not an option, the best thing you can do is to let them contribute to client work. (Education is great, but it doesn’t look nearly as impressive on a resume.) When it’s time for them to move on, put them in contact with folks you know who might be hiring. Teach them how to explain the work they did for you, so they can talk about it in job interviews.

In other words, help them launch. Your karma points will be huge.

Do you have any stellar intern stories or experiences to share? If so, leave them in the comments section below.