A Winning Internship

Written by Tom Chapman, Chapman & Company

Recently, I hired three interns – two technical and one for our sustainability program.  We kept our eyes out for individuals interested in working for Peeq.  It was not an accident that we were able to find three fabulous women who have already made our company better.

But, now that they are hired, I have been thinking about how to ensure that our company can roll out the red carpet for them.  You heard that right – we are re-recruiting these superstars.  I researched in a variety of management magazines how to create the best internship experience, and almost everyone acted as if it is the intern’s responsibility to impress me.  This is not the job market in which we currently live.  Instead, it is my job to re-recruit these interns.

Here’s somethings that was written in a 2016 Harvard Business Review article about internships.[1]  The first idea was 1) “start with relentless punctuality”.  This implies that I care when my interns arrive.  I don’t.  My interns know that we have a flexible working environment.  In addition, we pay competitively and provide real work experience – not just an opportunity to show that we can show up on time.

2) “Complete each task with excellence.”  Damn right.  We give them essential work.  If they do a bad job, WE did a bad job.  Even our technical interns have responsibility for real things.  For example, our first intern of 2022 is responsible for our box design.  We get plaudits every time we show off a new box.  She uses a variety of tools to design, create, illustrate, and even order boxes.  She knows that her job is essential to us.  This is not just a project that looks or sounds good.  Our company requires excellence because it is essential.  But, your interns on the front lines of hard, but real problems, and you will be surprised at how they excel.

3) “Take on more work -without being asked…4) Be resourceful…5) Ask questions – good ones”.  These are requirements that an interns job is to simply see and understand what is needed without really having training.  This to me looks like advice given by someone that has never had an intern.  A great intern is involved all day with lots of little things, questions, and ideas.  She is not someone that needs general direction.  She needs access to a variety of key decision makers and pushes/pulls into the right direction.  For example, last week we had a great start to our sustainability program written by a new employee and adapted by an intern.  But it was light on some key executable details.  This was not her fault.  How was she to know about things we had discussed prior to her arrival.  Instead, she needed some guidance and help shaping her work and ideas.  Because her work is both needed and essential, we were able to give her a ton of instant (within 24 hours) feedback.  She has since jumped back in and massively improved something that was already good.  This is about integrating the intern into a team – not just telling them that there are things that need to be done…find it.

6) “Build professional relationships”.  Today we discovered that one of our interns has a twin sister.  It was her first all staff meeting since her arrival.  She was telling us about her weekend and “favorite things”.  In this she described that she was dancing with her twin at a wedding.  My point is relationships are not just professional.  This is not about collecting business cards but creating genuine relationships with humans who are younger and potentially want to share themselves with you and the team.  Our goal is to make everyone on our team feel welcome in our team.  This means that they get to bring their authentic selves to work at Peeq.  This is not a slogan or an aphorism.  We have a favorite things card in our breakroom that includes everything from preferred coffee order to snack food.  I am the CEO, and I try to look at once a week to ensure that I capture one more thing about my colleagues.  It is for this reason that we do favorite things in meetings, and why we believe so strongly about making our office welcoming to newbies – interns or simply new hires.

The world is shifting away from traditional work, and I am concerned as I talk to colleagues in larger companies that many believe more money is the only lure. Strong community and culture win the day if you can be price competitive.  My experience is that interns care a lot more about learning and getting to experience our company – than just how much they get paid.  In fact, I had to educate most of my interns on what was an appropriate wage as many schools did not provide much knowledge on this topic to their students.

You may say that we were able to find interns outside of engineering and computer science.  Those people have different standards. My experience is that finding a designer who loves your company or a maker who is interested in building new products is possible. Using the same format and protocol for searching for interns means that you are missing out on superstars.  I know because I have hired three for this summer and beyond. 

[1] “6 Ways to Make the Most of Your Internship”. John Coleman. Harvard Business Review, July 11, 2016.