Inspiring The Next Generation – Taking On a Work Experience Student or Intern

  • Published on:
    April 7, 2021
  • Reading time by:
    4 minutes
Inspiring The Next Generation - Taking On a Work Experience Student or Intern

Several years ago, a family friend’s daughter asked me if she could come and do her work experience week with me. After explaining to her and her mum that I work in a corporate office and my role and company sounds much more glamourous than it really is, the young woman was still keen. Reluctantly I checked internally, and got the paperwork from the school, and all was agreed.

Before I knew it, the young women turned up at 9 am on a Monday morning ready for a week with me. It was a learning experience for both of us and I know we both got a lot out of it. I have gone on to have work experience students and interns each year. One young person even got a short-term paid project role from my company.

You may ask, why do it? I am sure you remember your work experience or intern experience. How was it? Did it help you work out what you wanted to do or what you didn’t want to do? We have all been new or had to learn once. Why not make a difference to someone else and see if you can inspire them?

Here are some ideas to make the experience a great one for everyone:

1 Put together a schedule 

Most work experience students are there to shadow you for the week. Take them along to all your meetings (even the video conferences), no matter how boring they are. Give them a good idea at the start of the week exactly where they need to be, when and what a scheduled meeting is about. Ensure those you are meeting with know you have a student with you and introduce them to everyone at the start. Most people you meet with will love to start a meeting but talking about their own work experience and this is a great icebreaker for everyone. 

2 Share the load/outsource

It is a long week or period to look after someone else, therefore, find others within the organisation who can spend 1-hour session explaining their role. Also, look outside your business to suppliers or customers who you deal with. Could they do a morning or afternoon session with your student explaining what it is like on the other side?
Having a few others will also allow you some time to get some work done. You will get work done but this will help and take some of the general pressure off your week too. All experiences they have will be a learning encounter for them so push them a little outside their comfort zone by having them call someone for a chat or visit a supplier without you.

3 Ask them to complete two manageable projects over the course of the experience.  

Have you been putting off doing some internet research? Do you have some files needing some love or some competitor data needing compiling? There are always some bigger projects that you are putting off as they require some additional work that you just don’t have time for. This is the time to get them done!
Provide your student with written step-by-step instructions on how complete the work. Even provide a template with an example so they have an idea of your expectation and the level of detail needed. It might take them all their time to do the two projects, but they can dip in and dip out of them each day giving you some time to work and them some time to do it. They will work much slower than you but they are likely to be quite thorough which isn’t a bad thing. Ask them to bring questions about the projects to the daily check-ins if they have any. 

If they are a summer intern taking on a key project for you, they will probably be with you for several weeks so use these tips for the first week and then you will find your rhythm over the coming weeks. I would suggest you catch up for a one-on-one type meeting at least twice in the weeks after their first week. This will ensure they and the summer project will remain on track. 

4 Check-in and out with them each day

Spend fifteen minutes each morning when you/they get in checking in with them. Then before the end of the day check in on them again. This will iron out any issues that might be going on. Of course, they can still come and ask questions of you, but this gives them some formal time to do this and also gives them some daily discipline. Ask some leading questions about them and their world, family and friends. It is always interesting to remember what it is like to be that age again. 

5 They are done by lunchtime Friday

Even though they go to school each day, coming to a workplace is vastly different. The amount they learn through the week on the job and the longer hours tires them out much more than expected. I normally finish them up by Friday lunchtime as I have probably some more work I can do and so they can have a couple of hours to themselves in the city spending their hard-earned money. This time gives them some time to reflect on the experience and who wouldn’t want a boss who lets them have a Friday afternoon off?

Taking on a work experience student or an intern is a giving experience on your behalf so don’t be surprised if it is a big week for you too. It is a wonderful way to share a bit of yourself and your work world with someone who could go on to do great things one day. Why not be a part of someone else’s journey and work career too.

Alicia Cohen

Currently, a freelance consultant, Alicia has over 20 years of the UK and Australian experience in professional and corporate roles within sales, management, and leadership. With post-graduate qualifications in publishing, communications, training and directorship, Alicia loves to chat about all things business, women’s affairs and digital.

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