What You Owe an Intern

Over the past few months, I’ve managed interns both for my own business and for other websites that I work for. It has come to my attention that while a lot of businesses treat interns well and actually teach them things, others don’t treat them well at all. I learned this from direct experience when I “rescued” an intern from what was frankly gross mistreatment at the hands of a large media conglomerate. I’ve drawn up this list of what you owe your interns for those of you who are considering hiring them.

1. An Education

Your interns come to you as a credit towards their graduation. That means in the short time that they are with you, you are their teachers. You have an obligation to actually teach them something over and above throwing them in a chair and telling them to go to it. If they can’t write headlines, sit down with them and show them how rather than just correcting them. If they have a hard time finding sources for a story, help them find those sources and teach them how to do so. This is time-consuming, but it is your obligation.

2. Treat Them Like Human Beings

They are not gutter snipes. They are human beings, albeit usually younger ones. This means that they are likely to get distracted and may care more about what’s happening on Facebook than what is happening in your business, but give them a chance and they will do excellent work for you.

3. Remember That They are Working for Free

While your contract with the intern means that they are working for you as an employee, they are nonetheless working for free. This means if they want to spend a little extra time on Facebook, you may want to ease off the urge to block access. You do need to give interns specific tasks to complete in a certain period of time, otherwise you are the failure, not the intern.

4. Evaluations are not the Place for Revenge Fantasies

Like any other employee, your personal views on the intern and their character don’t belong in a review. Look only at the job that they did, and keep #3 heavily in mind. The performance review may go towards their grades, so don’t give them a negative review unless they really deserve it, and that would be under some circumstance like they didn’t show up half the time or didn’t do a good job with their work. In the case of the intern I poached from Big Media, she was given bad marks because she had a “lack of creativity”, something that was laughably ironic considering the publication it came from.

5. Don’t Hire Interns Unless you are Prepared to Work With Them

Interns are not “hit the ground running” people. They are trained with basic journalism skills and that is all. Rarely do they come to you with anything close to the kind of experience that you are used to an employee having. That is why they are there. You will have to edit their work more thoroughly and spend actual time with them. If you can’t commit to that, don’t do it to start with.

There is far too much time spent on what interns owe the companies that they work for and not nearly enough time spent talking about what we owe them. Without interns, most large media companies may actually not be able to meet payroll, or at the very least would have to pay people for the tasks that interns currently accomplish. Here’s to the interns, and a happy graduation to all of you.

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