Internships and Practicum Experiences: How to be awesome

This year, once again we hosted an intern from Red River College’s Creative Communications program. The students are in their second-year of the program and getting ready to enter the workforce and keen to get a start on their careers.

In every case since starting, we have had excellent experiences with the interns that instructor Dan Vadeboncouer pairs us with and if I might say so, we have a LOT of fun over the three weeks.


I have heard a few stories over the years about internships that were less than fun though. And granted, work can’t be fun 24/7 but no one should ever feel unwelcome or shut-out of a work environment even if it is temporary.

In the spirit of this, Haley Hayward and I have compiled a list of ways to be AWESOME as an intern AND as the company hosting an intern. It’s not rocket science, but we’re saying it so you don’t have to. If you see yourself in these points, please share. And if you see someone’s experience not being reflected in these points, definitely share. The world needs more kindness all around, and I’m here to say that professionalism and courtesy go hand-in-hand every time.


Part I: 5 Ways to be an Awesome Intern

1. Don’t Be Late

This tip is a given, because no one ever wants to be late, but as an intern it’s a good idea to arrive early and stay late. Being on time is a good show of time management skills. Leave for your destination 30 minutes earlier than you think you need. The only thing worse than getting caught by a train or in a traffic jam as an intern is making up an excuse to your boss as to why you’re late.


2. Never Say No

As an intern you’re at your job to learn and gain experience. If your boss asks you to do something and you say no because you don’t know how to do said task, you can’t expect to gain much new knowledge. The unknown can be scary, especially when your job is on the line, but have no fear, there’s a special way to get around the unknown parts of your job. Check out the next tip for this secret.


3. Ask Questions

Surprise! The secret tip is to ask questions. A lot of people don’t want to ask questions because they feel like it makes them look like they don’t know what they’re doing, but sometimes you actually don’t. Asking questions shows you care about your task at hand, and you want to get the job done right. It’s a guarantee your boss would rather you ask questions and get the job done right the first time, then do it wrong and then they have to go back and fix it themselves. As a side note, when you submit your work, always let your boss know to contact you if they want any changes or corrections. Feedback is always good.


4. Takes Notes

Don’t rely on your memory to capture all the important information you hear while on the job. Humans aren’t robots, and we forget things sometimes, and that’s okay. That’s why we have pens, paper, phones, or anything else we can take notes on. If you’re in a meeting take notes on a pad of paper. If you’re walking with your boss and they mention something to you about your work, jot it down on your phone for later. You’ll thank yourself when you sit down to work on said tasks later.


5. Be Positive, Always

Hey, you got an internship and that’s awesome. So many people would love to be in your shoes. We all know being an intern can be scary and hard, but would you really rather not have the job at all? Take every experience as a learning one, and greet everyone you meet with a happy face. Having a good attitude towards life is nice for those around you, and it’s good for your own mental health. Life goes by fast, so take a breath and enjoy every experience, because before you know it you’ll be onto the next one.



Part II: 5 Ways to be an Awesome Host Company for an Intern

1. Be prepared for your intern

When I know I have an intern coming, I have a set list of tasks and projects that they will execute during their time with me. I prepare these tasks based on what we need and what I want the intern to take away from the work experience. Our first meeting usually takes place the week before we are to formally start and lays out any expectations and deliverables we have. This sets the tone for the work experience: we are organized, we are on-task, and we are ready to respond when the client needs something. BONUS POINTS: If your company can provide business cards for your intern this is such a smart gesture. It brings the intern into the fold, and makes them feel like a part of the team. Again, you as the host company have set the tone you expect and deliver.



2. Be available and open

Your intern is there to learn. So please give them every opportunity to do so. Invite them to meetings that are important to their work function (and ones that aren’t too so they can see what real work life is all about) and they can see your role in action. They will understand the function of your role (or your C- and VP-level) and how your job function and responsibilities are viewed within the company hierarchy. Give them tasks that allow them to use their skills. Please don’t use them to file or organize that back closet (unless you are helping them do it too). It is a waste of time for an intern looking to gain valuable work experience and it’s waste of the knowledge you can impart to them.



3. Be generous

With your time, your expertise, and your hospitality. I heard one story of an intern who was invited to an office potluck by one staff member. The intern was so excited to be a part of this event. Until… Until the owner told the intern to make sure to bring a lunch that day because they would not be allowed to attend said potluck. WHO SAYS THIS TO ANOTHER PERSON? The employee who invited the intern was mortified. Everything about your company culture starts at the top. This one example tells me everything I need to know about what kind of business owner and manager that person is. Be better. Set a positive example. Set a bigger table.


4. Give feedback and ask for updates

Your intern wants to do well for you. And if you give them the proper tools and set out expectations they likely will. But even then some miscommunications may happen. That’s OK. That’s real life. What is not okay is using these moments to lose your cool instead of making them teachable moments. Be constructive in your feedback and allow the intern to fix anything that may have gone wrong, with your guidance, of course. And then examine how the error got by both of you. With texting and email, it is easy to stay in touch and have check-ins no matter where one is working. What’s important to keep on schedule and ensure deadlines are met and that any grey areas or questions are answers and cleared up before proceeding to hit publish, send, or post.


5. Be positive, always

My number one rule in PR and social media as the agency owner is to never let them see you sweat. You can plan for most things but even when you make plans that you think are air-tight, there is always the element of the unexpected. That is life. But as the BOSS, it is you who steers the ship. You can panic inside but we never let the client see this. We find hope in the storm, we make things happen when there doesn’t seem to be a way. We execute and leave the mess behind the curtain. And we encourage our staff (troops) to rally when we are riding the rough seas by being confident and calm in the face of turbulence. We’ve been through a storm before and we got through it and more importantly, we learned something. We can use these opportunities to showcase professionalism under less than ideal conditions and that no matter what–the client comes first. And we evaluate not only how the seas got rough (was it internal or external forces)? The answer to this question means we learn something about ourselves as an organization, about our strengths and weaknesses, and how we will address these plot twists in the future.


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Thank you, Haley Hayward, for being a total rock star!

What do you think? What did we miss? We’d love to hear your tips and comments.


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