Cape Town, South Africa

How to Make Your Intern Feel Valued

From the Founders' Desk

We launched our internship program at Coco Creative in March 2018, and our first recruit joined the program in April.

We were offering an unpaid, 3-month internship. I was acutely aware of how potentially unrealistic a fully unpaid internship is for most people, so I became determined to make the internship as valuable as possible in other ways.

As the company offering the internship position, it is easy to see where the value lies for us (assuming you take the time to hire the right intern for the role), but we needed to make sure that the relationship was symbiotic. Cassidy agreed to join to team fully unpaid for 3 months and as our first recruit, we weren’t entirely sure how to make her experience beneficial.
I decide the best way to do it, given our lack of experience as well, was to regularly check in with Cass and play open cards. Let her tell us what works for her and what doesn’t, what she likes about our working style, what she would like to learn more of or less of. We included her in the process and made her responsible for her own internship.

The result was brilliant, in many ways:

  • We got to step into the intern’s shoes for a bit and really understand how it is for them to learn and grow. Cassidy was super candid and very open to sharing, but I think the key to this is creating a safe space for your intern to feel like they can be honest. There is no value if there’s space for honest feedback, for both parties.
  • By making our intern feel valued and “heard”, we got great results from her. I think it is very easy for an unpaid intern to start to feel like a general dog’s body and a little taken advantage of. We set out to make sure this didn’t happen with Cassidy and we treated her like a valued member of the team, whose opinion and feelings mattered.
  • Because she felt like a valued member of the team, Cass felt comfortable enough to ask for help and we made sure there was always someone nearby to help her out if she needed. This made her feel safe enough to take on mammoth tasks that normally would have scared her. Knowing that she ask for help at any point made her feel safe enough to try, and even to fail.
  • We got to refine our Internship Program for the next intern by paying real attention to how it was for her. Cassidy was given an opportunity every fortnight to feedback on the management team – how our instructions or requests were being received, the level of training she was receiving before being tasked, how realistic our expectations of her were, and so much more.

The key to the success of Cassidy’s internship came down to some very basic principles from the team managing her – make her feel valued, make her feel heard, make her feel included, and never stop teaching her new tips, tricks and skills. At the end of the day, she is not there to lighten the load, she is there to learn.

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