I’m sure you know by now, but one of my favorite things to talk about on the blog are internships and careers. I’ve been working in the fashion industry and a corporate environment for about four years now and as much as I’ve grown and learn, I still learn something new and grow every single day. But, there were so many things I wish I knew when I first started out, which is why I love to share my experiences here.
Normally when I talk about internships, it’s more along the lines of how to be a good intern and mistakes to avoid, but today we are turning the tables and talking about how to be a good intern manager. Internships are definitely a two way street and as important as it is for an intern to work hard, it’s just as important as a manger to really be a mentor. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes managing interns and I’ve also learned from my old managers and wanted to share a few do’s & don’ts when it comes to managing interns.
How To Be A Great Intern Manager
BE A MENTOR & A ROLE MODEL
Everyone’s experience is different, but to be honest, when you first start interning and first start building your career, it’s really difficult. You’re the low man on the totem pole, you have to put in twice as much work and effort to prove yourself and you’re probably getting paid nothing or next to nothing. But, when I look back at my internships and freelance roles, I can’t help but smile because of the amazing managers I had that became great mentors in my life.
Repeat after me, internships are meant to gain experience and interns are here to learn. So as an intern manager, you have to be a teacher and even take it a step further and become a mentor and set an example for your interns. Chances are, this internship probably isn’t their end goal, but it’s a foot in the door and a chance for them to learn. Take an opportunity to get to know your interns, find out what they want to do and help guide them in that direction.
When I first started interning, it was at a PR company. It wasn’t my dream, my goal was to work at a magazine. My boss at the time really took the time to teach me and encourage me and push me in that direction. He let me correspond on emails with editors to get my name out there and challenged me to memorize runway looks so I would be knowledgable on collections. He didn’t exactly hand me a key to the magazine world or connect me with anyone, but he encouraged me and guided me and gave me the tools to move on to my dream job.
And don’t forget to be a role model and set an example for your interns. Preaching that you have to be in at 9, but you roll in at 9:20 with Starbucks isn’t a good look. My previous intern manager would always roll in late and it made me feel as if being at work at 9 wasn’t that important. Whereas my boss at another job would not only show up on time, but show up early and would always get right to work and get the day rolling and it really inspired me. So practice what you preach and if you tell your interns to do one thing, make sure you’re following your own standards.
ASK THEM WHAT THEY WANT TO GET OUT OF THIS EXPERIENCE
I think this is so important and honestly something I wish I had done when I was an intern manager.
Internships mean something different to everyone. They could be a senior trying to prove themselves to get a job since they just graduated or will be graduating. They could be a junior trying to get those college credits and figure out what they want to do. Or they could be a sophomore or freshmen just trying to do something with their time over the summer and build up their resume. They’re all here for different reasons and you should understand what they are to try to help them get what they want out of this experience.
Start a dialogue with them and encourage them to be honest. If their response is “I’m not sure what I want to do, I just wanted to get experience” or “I just thought it was a cool way to spend the summer,” don’t be offended or shocked or upset and shut down and not give them work. Remember what you were like in college? Nothing mattered until it needed to matter. So take those interns who are unsure and kind of laid back and give them them projects and meaningful work . Sure, make sure they understand the office basics, but also give them projects they can interact with and have to put effort into. A lot of the times, interns are uninterested because they don’t really understand what you do or why you do a certain thing. When I managed interns I always had a select few that seemed uninterested and bored and so I never really gave them any big responsibilities. I now realize that they were uninterested because I wasn’t giving them a chance to work on fun projects or important tasks. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to do it, it was that I counted them out early on and didn’t let them do it.
So if you have an intern that needs a little more guidance, put in that effort and guide them. And if you have an intern that is passionate and really wants to be there and is convinced this is what they want to do, make sure you’re giving them those challenging projects. If they want to work in a certain field or company, make sure they understand the work and the environment and be open to answering any questions for them.
If you only have one intern, that’s amazing and you can really tailor an experience for them. If you have a bunch, it gets tricky. I managed 8 to 9 interns at any given semester. Just take the time to get to know them and try to give each one as personalized an experience as possible.
TAKE TIME TO TRAIN & TEACH THEM
Hi! Is it your first day interning? Great. So I need you to go in and export the MAT tool because we need to use the product’s flex code to check drop dates. We also have an MKO today so I need you to put the stylist’s name in Angus for the meeting. I also need you to go into the wireframes and update the style and color codes. We’re also going to need to print those documents for the meeting. We have a universal printer so you can printout any location with your i.d. You know how to use the machine right? And finally can you show the stylist around the prop closet so they know where to pull everything.
Are you confused? I’m sure you would be if I just gave you all this direction and didn’t take the time to train you.
My point is, it is so easy for us to get caught up in our jobs. We come here everyday, we know the lingo and the job like the back of our hands. Sure, we may get different things thrown at us throughout the day, but for the most part we understand and know our job. So it’s hard when someone new comes in and you have to remind yourself that something that is so easy and understandable to you may not be as easy to an intern who is brand spankin’ new to your work place. So take time out of your day to teach and train your interns and remember there is always something new to be done and new to learn so this isn’t a one and done kind of thing. And they will have questions so be open to constantly teaching them and guiding them and be patient with them. In the long run, if you take time in the beginning training them, they will be so much more helpful to you as time goes on rather than constantly pushing it off and having to give them a crash course whenever it gets super busy.
MAKE SURE THEY’RE LEARNING & GIVE FEEDBACK
The reason I keep stressing the fact that internships are meant for learning is because I think as an intern manager or anyone who works with interns in general, it’s easy to get selfish and even lazy.
Throughout a work day you have so many things thrown your way and so many things you want to accomplish by end of day and when you get a little support, its the best thing in the world. But, remember that having an intern do your expenses or go on a coffee or lunch run or hang samples or organize a workroom isn’t exactly teaching them anything. Sure, some of these things need to be done, but just make sure that their entire internship isn’t filled with cleaning or doing something mindless that isn’t teaching them. Give them meaningful tasks to work on and check in on them and make sure they’re actually learning. And in my humble opinion, getting lunch and grabbing coffee should never be an intern task. Is it really necessary? Can you honestly not take 5 minutes out of your day to get your own lunch? It’s so belittling and something I am truly against.
Anyways, make sure to give feedback when necessary!! My old interns constantly would tell me, I was too nice. I never wanted to confront them or single someone out. Even when I became snappy, I would just keep quiet and keep to myself to avoid conflict. The editors we worked for were horrible and nasty and because of that, I wanted to be a good cop to them. I didn’t want every supervisor they had to be rude to them.
But, feedback is important and most of the time it doesn’t come from a bad place and its essential to learn. Remember, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. So if they make a mistake, let them know and show them how to fix the problem. If they did something great, make sure to tell them. Or if you think something could be done differently, let them know. Feedback is a good thing. It’s how you grow so make sure you’re giving them feedback and making sure they know it’s coming from a good place.
ACTUALLY DELEGATE WORK TO THEM
I’m gonna be honest, I really struggle with this one. I’m such a control freak when it comes to my work and I get stressed out and find it difficult to delegate and explain my work to someone else. It’s hard for me to ask for help. But, that’s not a great way to work, especially when you have an intern. What good is it to have someone who is here to learn and help, if you’re not giving them any work?
So learn to let go and allow someone to help you. Give them work and actually give them meaningful work. Allow them to prove themselves to you and show you they can get the work done and as time goes on, continue giving them more meaningful tasks.
When I first started interning, one of my biggest responsibilities was going through the morning paper and scanning to see if any of our clients were mentioned. I would also organize the showroom and pack up garment bags and as time went on and I proved that I was a hard worker to my boss, I got more important tasks like talking to editors and clients and helping with fashion week tasks. And that all started because my boss gave me a chance and delegated a small project to me and I proved to him that I could do the work. So let go a little bit and allow someone to help you.
CREATE A GOOD WORK ENVIRONMENT
Life is tough as an intern. You really are the lowest man on the totem pole. You get up early everyday to get ready for work, get yourself a Starbucks coffee to function, have to pay for your morning commute whether you take public transportation or drive and don’t even get paid. But, you’re in it for the long run. You know this is a learning experience and its a foot in the door.
So as an intern manager, you not only want to make sure that your interns are learning, but you should also strive to create a good work environment for them.
When they start, make them feel welcome and take time out of your day to get to know them a little bit, introduce them to people and get them settled. I’ve started new jobs and even had interns start with me where it was crazy and hectic and it just starts the whole experience off on the wrong foot and it’s hard to recover from that. When I started at Cosmo, my boss was basically like here is a computer, get to work and I had no idea what I was doing. I had to answer emails like trying to get international copies for a brand and had no idea who to reach out to because I was new and my boss knew exactly who to reach out to, but refused to help. Whereas when I started at VS, my boss made sure to walk me through everything, introduce me to everyone, even gave me a list of people to meet with and even took me to get my I.D. Welcomes are important people!!
Make sure they know that they can approach you and talk to you if they have questions or have issues or want to learn something more. Take time to meet with them to get to know them and check in with them. I had an intern once who worked with me in the fashion department, but her passion was with the health and wellness aspect of the magazine. She approached me and wanted to meet with an editor in that field so I reached out and coordinated a meeting for her. The editor was really open with her and even gave her a project to pitch ideas and I also took time out of my day to help her with her project and give feedback. I really loved that she was honest with me that working in the fashion department wasn’t what she wanted to do and trusted me enough to ask me for help.
I think a great intern manager really stands up for their interns and make sure they’re getting a great and learning experience. And I think a great intern and manager relationship is when an intern respects you, but is also comfortable with you to ask for help and guidance and can air their concerns. Remember, most of the time they are working hard and giving it their all and working the same hours as you with no pay, so the least you can do is be a silver lining in their day rather than another burden.
This post really took me back to my interns day. I was really blessed to have had such amazing bosses that really mentored me. And even though I made my fair share of mistakes managing interns, I learned a lot from that experience and I hope I can share that with you so that if you’re managing one intern or a team of interns you don’t make the same mistakes as I did. This world could use a little more empathy so before you go off and lose your cool on an intern, just remember what it was like being in their shoes and what you were like in college. So be patient and open with them.
I hope you enjoyed today’s post, please leave me any feedback you have! I’m all ears. And thank you so much for reading!