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This article was published on March 12, 2014

Coffee can wait: 5 lessons your intern really needs to learn this summer

Coffee can wait: 5 lessons your intern really needs to learn this summer
Nathan Parcells
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Nathan Parcells

Nathan Parcells is co-founder and CMO of InternMatch, an online platform connecting the best intern candidates and employers. Connect with N Nathan Parcells is co-founder and CMO of InternMatch, an online platform connecting the best intern candidates and employers. Connect with Nathan and InternMatch on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Nathan Parcells is the co-founder and CMO of InternMatchan online platform connecting the best intern candidates and employers. Connect with Nathan and InternMatch on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

This summer, thousands of students and young professionals will flock to land coveted internship positions. While the goal of many internship programs is to find talent, they can also be the gateway to skills development and powerful contacts.

Despite this, the benefits of an internship have recently been shadowed by disasters, controversies, and even lawsuits.

If stereotypes about interns were true, grabbing coffee or picking up dry cleaning would be the extent of their role. But with 97 percent of employers planning to hire interns and co-ops in 2014, you can’t afford to let these eager young professionals go to waste.

Instead, think of interns like sponges, absorbing the lessons you give them. This summer, I encourage you to put down your coffee order and replace it with some lessons your intern really needs to learn. Here are a few to note:

The value in diversity

In 2014, 81 percent of companies plan to focus on recruiting diverse candidates. This is particularly important since 83 percent of startups have all-white teams, a mere 5 percent of the tech workforce is black, and 4 percent is Hispanic.

Diversity, both in terms of background and educational experience, can give young professionals access to stronger ideas and varying perspectives, as well as the chance to learn from a multitude of skill sets.

Diverse teams also teach interns how to work with different people and in different situations, adjusting their learning styles as they go. This shows interns the value in growing and moving forward.

Software and skills training

College may be where interns learn the fundamentals, but an internship is where they gain the skills to enhance them. Giving your intern ample software and skills training provides them with knowledge they’ll actually use in the long run, whether they stick with you or go to another organization.

You may argue that you don’t have the time or the resources to teach your intern how to use Photoshop, Salesforce, or FinalCut Pro. Although this may be the case, I encourage you to think of the big picture: What’s the point of having an internship program if you’re not going to teach the necessary skills for success?

By carving out a little time out of your day to educate interns on the basics, you give them something of value — and a real program takeaway.

Corporate culture education

Many students enter the workforce clueless on how to perform under normal workplace environments. Learning how to navigate through a corporate setting not only educates your intern on what to expect, it also teaches them how to react when they’re faced with team shifts, power structures, or even office politics.

Walk your intern through a range of possible scenarios and ask them how they would react. For instance, if an organizational merger were on the horizon, how would they respond to sudden shifts in management?

If they’ve never worked in a corporate setting, they may not react appropriately or with enough vigor. In any case, provide them with some “best practice” guidelines so they’re aware of best ways to respond.

The importance of branding

Branding is a vital part of your organization. How others perceive your company will ultimately factor into buying decisions and affect customer sentiment and loyalty. No matter if you’re head of marketing or a manager in tech, teaching your intern the importance of branding can really shape how they perform.

While the range of your branding lessons will obviously vary, laying down the foundation is key. Go over your company mission, vision, and organizational goals in order to influence how interns view your organization.

In turn, this feeds into how they send out a tweet, create a website mockup, or write a business proposal for your brand.

Budgeting and fund allocation

Money is an integral part of how a company runs. For many organizations, knowing where to put your dollars can make or break your business.

While an intern doesn’t have to be present at an investor’s meeting or know about quarterly results, they should understand where your funds are going.

Give them a general idea of each department’s budget to teach them the importance of fund allocation – and that it’s not about playing favorites. Some departments need more funds than others. Your job as a leader, and as a mentor, is to teach them how you come to that decision.

As students and young professionals fill your organization this summer, take some time to teach them some real lessons. While learning how to input data or making photocopies may be part of their job, going one step further can instill lessons they’ll use for a lifetime.

What do you think? What are some other lessons your intern really needs to learn this summer?