Breaking the Barrier
If you influence the work of interns, here’s what I want you to understand: For many, this is the first exposure to the inner-working of a company. Our norms are new for them.
That newness can paralyze. Students can’t contribute fully if they are uncomfortable or afraid.
As a mentor and coach, my first connection with interns often relates to what we share. Sometimes that common thread is being a minority, as was the case with high school intern Javion (you can see his story here).
A student knows that they are different because of their age and lack of experience. When the student is a minority, the difference can feel even bigger.
Fear – of being judged, of the unknown, of making a mistake – can silence creativity and contributions, and that’s the last thing we want. I told Javion, and I tell all of our interns: You have a voice that is uniquely yours. Use it.
And it’s up to us to make sure that voice is heard.
You Are Important
Internships must be a positive experience. There’s no option for anything less.
This is a student’s first experience in a company. For some (like Javion), it’s the first time being a minority in a professional setting.
You can make an indelible impact on someone’s life. You can be the deciding factor if that student wants to pursue a particular career, industry or company.
To create a positive experience, remember:
- Students are inexperienced. That’s why they are interning. Do not assume they know the etiquette of professional dress or emails, the structure or expectations of meetings, the path of decision making. They don’t. Teach them.
- Prioritize development and appreciate aptitude. Internships are about learning and shaping. Don’t expect the work product to look like something an experienced employee can deliver. It won’t. Guide them.
- Life outside of the internship matters. How students show up for work can rely on factors you know nothing about. Pressures at home and school can be monumental. Be realistic in your expectations and open to learning about their life.