In the early days of mobile-first gaming app Lucktastic, it wasn’t unusual to see summer interns in roles that seasoned professionals with degrees and some experience under their belts would ultimately take on. It was necessary. Now, nearly five years in, the startup might not have an intern leading marketing — there are more risks now — but interns are no less important. Whether an organization is big and established or nascent and shoring up its footing, companies shouldn’t take these temporary employees for granted. They should invest in their development.
Finding top talent early, educating them on the business, letting them understand it and then apply their curiosity and own understanding of the market is critical, said Alex Betancur, co-founder of Jump Ramp Games, which features a suite of casual games including Lucktastic. He said the company strategically develops its summer interns for two reasons: investing in their finite time with the company ensures they get a well-rounded work experience, and it helps the organization identify people it might like to work with in the future.
“You educate them the best you can, you put them in scenarios, you spend the time and then you help guide their leadership,” Betancur said. He said this approach is no different from the company’s investments in full-time hires. “It’s just the DNA of the company.”
That DNA often means throwing interns in at the deep end, engaging interns in a manner similar to regular employees. Summer employees spend about a week playing with and getting to know the mobile app while being mentored by different departments. Interns learn about how the company’s goals, how it makes it money and how it amplifies its social message. They learn about the metrics that matter to the work they’re doing. Regardless of what role or department the intern ultimately takes on, “we paint a really, really detailed picture of how the business works,” Betancur said.
Once interns are oriented with the company, they’re given responsibilities. Treated like an investor — given the ins and outs of what makes the business run — summer interns are empowered with knowledge and able to make an impact. This generation is not about getting anyone’s coffee, Betancur said. They want to learn.
Jump Ramp does its best to educate interns on the business, and that they should speak up, raise their hand and contribute. This education could mean as much as a 10- to 15-hour investment from senior staff. That’s not common in larger, more established organizations, but the time needed for development shouldn’t stand in the way of the larger goal to deliver a strong internship program to summer employees and develop them in the process.
It’s true that a person’s summer internship experience is what they make it, but Elon University’s Center for Engaged Learning offered a few pointers learning leaders can use to engage summer employees and help develop future leaders if not for their own organization, for another. They are:
Give interns the chance to navigate a variety of contexts. In doing so, they’ll interact with different people, in different roles with different styles, personalities and backgrounds. These kinds of experiences build multicultural skills, improve interns’ ability to get along with colleagues and strengthen their communication skills.
Make sure interns receive regular feedback. Interns should have a touch point in the office — a supervisor who provides guidance, support and feedback throughout the experience, the center said in a white paper. Not only is this critical to the intern’s work, but also it can ensure internship program’s reputation remains good.
Betancur, who’s worked in bigger organizations, said his experience working with interns while leading a startup has been a learning lesson, one relevant to any company with interns. “A lot of company’s overvalue the tech prowess you have — what humbles you as a startup. You have young kids or people who haven’t proven themselves — their tenacity and their sort of will to do well trumps a tremendous amount of expertise.”
Heart matters, he said. “And the ability for them to do their own self-motivation when they feel they’re empowered, and they’re going to make a difference — I’ve seen kids that have no experience figure it out.”
Companies, big and small, have to strategically to set the stage for this.
Bravetta Hassell is a Chief Learning Officer associate editor. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Filed under: StrategyTagged with: development, interns, internships, learning