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Summer’s Coming: Has Your Utility Hired Any Interns?

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Andy Gotlieb's picture
Editor of a specialty publication, former public relations practitioner Freelancer

I hold 34 years of experience in communications, mostly in journalism, with a decade in public relations, too.  The first 17 years were spent in print journalism, where I covered, at various...

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  • Apr 14, 2022
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Good fortune smiled upon me a couple of weeks ago.

Out of the blue, a Yale University junior with a near-perfect GPA emailed me and wondered whether my publication could use an intern. I get dozens of emails a day, but I was sure to respond to this one immediately considering his pedigree and his writing experience.

And, a month from now, the student will start working for me as a summer intern.

Finding quality interns can be challenging, but this couldn’t have been any easier.

The question to ask: Can an intern help you?

I’m a big fan of interns although, admittedly, I’ve worked with a few duds over the years. Still, when you land on a good one, they can be a great help, especially in your public relations/marketing department if the “Great Resignation” has impacted you.

My best interns have been true game changers and have gone on to successful careers.

One worked as the lead financial reporter for the Associated Press in New York City. Another has held high-level jobs with multiple major companies. A third, who graduated from college a year ago, is already a senior analyst at a worldwide conglomerate.

I could tell immediately that all three were going to do well. They had instincts, followed directions, had strong work ethics and common sense and asked appropriate questions as needed. Sure, they sometimes needed improvement, but when I pointed something out, they never made the same mistake again.

Most interns have to be brought along slowly and earn my trust. These three were able to write full-fledged stories almost immediately, rivaling my best reporters.

So, what should you and your utility look for in an intern?

All the qualities mentioned above tend to surface during an interview. An eye for detail is readily apparent as well – resumes and other submitted materials should be free of typographical errors and bad grammar.

During interviews (try to have them on Zoom or in-person), watch the body language. You want enthusiastic people. They don’t have to be cheerleaders, but they should clearly be interested in the job, not looking for a way to kill time during the summer or make a few bucks/earn college credits.

And don’t forget to check references; make sure those references are not family members or friends. Talk to a teacher or a former employer and listen carefully because you may well have to read between the lines.

Another good way to winnow your candidate pool is to have them complete an assignment for you. While you make ask for writing samples or other work materials in the internship posting, you never know who’s edited the material or helped with its completion. Sure, there’s the possibility they’ll also get help with your specific assignment, but keep the timeframe short to minimize that possibility.

Chances are slim that the perfect candidate will email you seeking internship possibilities, so you’ll have to do some of the legwork yourself.

College job placement offices are a great place to start and usually maintain a database of internship opportunities for students. It may sound snooty, but focus on the best colleges in your area. It’s not exactly foolproof, but the smartest kids go to the best schools; your chances of landing a go-getter theoretically are higher.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t try lesser places – plenty of not-so-smart kids somehow end up at good schools and many smart students wind up at nonprominent schools for a variety of reasons – but the better the school, the better the success rate.

When you do hire an intern, your expectations and the job duties at your utility should be clearly defined. This will save you from unpleasant surprises. Do allow for some flexibility, especially when it comes to scheduling; students will want time for family vacations or just to hang out with their friends.

If you want to pay your interns, feel free to do so, but if they’re getting credit for the internship, check-in with their school to discover the parameters set there. There’s likely some paperwork you’ll need to complete.

As for the work itself, start slow, no matter how promising they appear. Depending upon the early performance, you can ramp up the pace and the complexity of tasks as you see fit. Don’t be afraid to challenge your best interns. They’re going to be in the workforce in a year or so – maybe working for you? – so use the internship as a test run.

And should an intern turn out to be a colossal flop? There’s likely nothing that says you can’t terminate them. If that’s too drastic of a measure, there’s surely some utility drudge work, such as updating databases, they can complete.

At the end of the internship, even if their school doesn’t require it, provide a written evaluation of what they did well and what needs improvement. And keep in touch with anyone you might consider hiring.

Andy Gotlieb's picture
Thank Andy for the Post!
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