Internship Programs and Why They Work

First, a quick disclaimer: On the subject of internships, I'm somewhat biased. When I was in college, I worked for my school's Career Development & Placement office, so I'm rather partial to having interns around. Having worked there, though, I got to witness the huge student demand for internships first hand.

Many college students are required to participate in an internship to satisfy requirements for their major. Those that aren't required are often enthusiastic about the idea of securing an internship just to get good job experience. Before I worked at the Career Development office, I used to think that internships were only for finance or accounting majors who wanted to get their feet in the door with a big firm, so that they'd have a better chance of getting a job when they graduated. In actuality, the demand for internships is huge across all college majors.

Internship programs can be great for ad agencies. Advertising is one of the sexier fields in which to work, so there's no shortage of college students who are interested in at least checking out what your internship program might be able to offer them. What's really cool is that your agency can offer quite a bit to a motivated college student or recent grad. An intern can gain valuable work experience and contacts working for you. In turn, you get the opportunity to get more young people interested in careers in our field, while having an extra set of hands around the office to help you out.



Last summer, we brought an intern aboard for the summer. She helped us out with everything; from handling Excel spreadsheets to helping us put together an Old Timers List barbecue at Greg Stuart's house. (I admit that at first, I felt a little guilty giving her the task of chopping up vegetables for the crudite, but truth be told, she got to spend a lot of time rubbing elbows with a lot of people in the industry, many of whom could offer her a job when she graduates.)

In the end, she got experience that she could take with her to any ad agency, plenty of contacts, and an understanding of how media agencies work. We got a helping hand with some of our work, plus the warm fuzzy that goes along with turning someone on to our business. Someone else benefited from this, too - the Career Development person at her school.

If you've never spoken to someone in Career Development at a college, you should. If you're interested in getting information about setting up a program, they'll be very happy to hear from you. A good deal of their time is spent ensuring that quality firms recruit on their campus. By and large, their job performance is judged based on how many jobs and internships they can secure for students. (Colleges love to brag about the percentage of their senior class that secures jobs before they graduate, or within the first few months after graduation. Success at career development is often used by organizations that rate and compare schools, so these things are critical to the school.)

But you can't just ring up your favorite school and say, "Gimme an intern." Here are some tips for getting a program started.

  1. Decide what you need. How many interns can you keep busy? What will you have them do? Who will supervise them? Do you have computers, desks and space for them?
  2. Write a job description. Treat it like you're writing one for an entry-level employee. Include details on what's in it for the applicant, including whether or not you're offering a paid internship. Be sure to relate details on the experience an applicant could gain from working with your company. Also, don't forget a few words about your company - what it does, how big it is, what differentiates it from other firms, etc.
  3. Pick your schools and contact the career office at each one. Look for schools that are known for their communications, marketing or advertising programs. And don't forget your alma mater. The career office personnel will give you all you need to get feedback from as many qualified applicants as possible, including suggestions for methods for applying, application deadlines, prerequisites and all the other little gory details.
  4. Conduct interviews. As resumes start rolling in, set up appointments for interviews. Look for many of the same things you'd look for in an entry-level employee, like an assistant media planner. Excel experience is a bonus, as is a basic knowledge of the Internet. Make sure applicants aren't slackers. The best ones will show drive and eagerness in the first interview, and will ask questions about the experience they hope to get. Be wary of any applicants that seem overly fixated on compensation or when they have to show up in the morning. Don't forget to ask if they can get college credit for interning with you. Their professors or academic advisors might want you to fill out some paperwork in that case, including performance assessments.
  5. Understand that they're college kids. Don't be discouraged if you attract people who have very little to offer other than drive and curiosity about the field. Remember, we all had to start somewhere. And many times, drive, curiosity and a willingness to learn are all someone needs to become a very valuable asset to your company.

One last tip... Once you've selected your intern(s) and they start work, don't be hesitant to give them some of the tedious tasks our industry is famous for. It's easy to remember what a pain in the neck some of these tasks were, and easy to forget that many of us learned by doing. Even if an intern spends a good chunk of his week entering numbers into spreadsheets, it's not a bad thing. He'll pick up on the relationships between critical metrics on performance reports, while you offload some of your tedium. That means you'll be able to spend more time on strategy and other big picture stuff. It's a win-win all around.

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