Article By: J. Kaitlin Vaughn

Internship programs are extremely valuable resources for both interns and firms. Interns can test the waters of their upcoming degree field and firms can test out potential future employees. But as we all know, internships vary greatly firm to firm and student to student. Here are some quick tips to help ensure both the student and the firm get the most out of helping one another:

1. Get to Know Your Interns.

First things first: Find out why they are with your firm, what their future goals are, and what they are wanting to get out of the internship. Aside from getting to know their work passions and skillsets, try to learn about them as people outside of the office. What are their hobbies they enjoy outside of work? Are there other coworkers who enjoy those hobbies, too? Invite them to lunches, networking events, and volunteer efforts so they can be a part of the social culture, as well. Let them become a part of your work family for as long as they’re with you.

2. Learn From One Another.

Of course, interns complete internships in order to learn from firms and people in their chosen field. TSW Recent Hire Junha Jang pointed out, “There are many really experienced people here, [and] the best part is: they are always trying to help you.”

As an intern or new hire, it is really important to come ready to work with a base technical skillset (At TSW for the landscape architecture side it’s AutoCAD,  Plan Renderings, and Sketchup; for the architecture side: Revit; for the planning side: AutoCAD and GIS; and additionally the Adobe Suite, firm-wide). Having a working knowledge of a firm’s most utilized programs will allow you to hit the ground running assisting on projects. From that point forward, you will learn more about the utilization of these programs in a real-world setting in real time.

However, an often-missed opportunity is learning from the intern’s current-day education. Are they learning a software program new to existing staff? Can they provide a unique insight into generational movements and trends? Can they bring a new rendering style or new technology to the table? Ask them how they would go about completing any given task, and you might just learn something new.

8 Tips to Enhance Your Internship Program (for the Firm AND the Intern)

3. Keep an Open Line of Communication

Remain flexible for the availability to answer questions about tasks, work culture, and procedural routine.  It’s easy to get swept up in the chaos of daily deadlines but it’s important to remember that helping them allows them to better help you, in return. Make sure your firm has the capacity to mentor the intern(s) in your program in a meaningful way. As for the interns: it’s completely normal to feel like you’re pestering people by asking questions, but TSW intern Natascha Lo reminds new interns to “Always ask questions. Ask any question, even if you think it’s ‘dumb,’ because it’s probably not.” And we couldn’t agree more.

8 Tips to Enhance Your Internship Program (for the Firm AND the Intern)

4. Provide Meaningful Work and Engagement.

The most beneficial work to give an intern is work that lets them learn as much as possible while also providing you with the help you need to get deliverables out the door. If the work they’re helping with is work getting sent to a client, they’re working on tasks that matter that they also learn from. Firms get to see firsthand how interns solve real, applicable problems within their field of work and they get to apply their skillsets in a way that’s directly applicable to their future pursuits.

TSW Recent Hire Junha Jang explained, “You are exposed to projects and client meetings from the get go. At first it’ll be intimidating, but the amount you will learn won’t compare to any other firms you’ll go to.”

Stereotypical “busy work” is a part of every internship, and a part of every job no matter how high you rise (scanning, printing, binding, filing, etc.); but a good, diverse mix of work will keep everyone balanced, passionate, and engaged.

8 Tips to Enhance Your Internship Program (for the Firm AND the Intern)

5. Let Them Be involved.

Get them involved in discussions concerning project direction changes, let them listen in on client input and feedback, copy them on appropriate email threads, and let them sit in on calls. If you can, let interns sit in on as many meetings as possible. TSW intern Natascha said “Sitting in on project meetings is always very helpful, and even if you don’t understand all of it, just getting the exposure to it is really beneficial.”

The more involved they are, the more engaged they are. This lets them learn as much as possible during their internship and allows them to be more efficient in each task they are given. Interns: don’t be afraid to ask to be involved in something. Worst case scenario is that you can’t this one time, but probably can the next.

8 Tips to Enhance Your Internship Program (for the Firm AND the Intern)

6. Give Constructive, Interactive Feedback.

Interns are probably not going to be perform at 100% on each new task they’re given.  They are here to learn and the more constructive and interactive your feedback is, the more they can grow (and, in turn, perform better on future tasks). A couple ways we like to do this interactively is through:

  • General “lessons learned” during group studio meetings
  • Letting interns sit in DURING the redlining process (for design work) and explaining the redline markups while they are happening so everyone understands what went wrong, what needs changed, and more importantly: why.

Interns: As TSW intern Xiaoya Wu says, remember to “Pay attention to the details, you will learn a lot from every small thing.”

8 Tips to Enhance Your Internship Program (for the Firm AND the Intern)

7. Remember That They Are Still Learning.

Sometimes an intern is performing so well that you forget they are, in fact, still a student. (This is a compliment, interns!) Try not to lose sight of the fact that they haven’t been doing this for as many years as you, make sure to review work carefully, provide thoughtful feedback, and revise appropriate expectations. Interns, if you get asked to do something beyond your skillsets, utilize that open line of communication (see #3). Don’t be afraid to remind someone you’re still a student, but that you would love to learn a new skill to help out with the task.

8. Stay Connected!

Stay connected with interns after they leave. Keep those relationships open so you can continue to learn from one other and potentially work together or network together in the future!