Invasion of the Interns: Managing the Office’s Newest Class

By Maria Pianelli

aliens-ETPicture this. The elevator opens and in they walk– meek, fresh-faced, desperately clutching a notebook of sorts. They’re overdressed– a blazer too fancy, heels too high, makeup too tidy. You know who they are before they’re even introduced. After all, you were in their shoes only a year ago.

It’s intern season and while the rest of the office is relatively unfazed, you can’t shake how familiar this all feels. They’ve been through this countless times before, but with the new arrival, you’re no longer the new kid on the block. Suddenly, you’re on the opposite end of a well-tread rite of passage.

Now what?

Embrace Common Ground.

Nearly year and a half since my own agency internship, I’ve watched three seasons of interns transition in. And each time, I recall my own trepidation as I watch them nodding along to intro decks and scribbling hurried notes. When it comes down to it, entry level employees and interns have a lot in common. Fresh out of the system, you probably understand their transition better than anyone else. While that can serve as a comfort to them, it also works to your advantage.

Despite how desperately school tries to prep its students for the “real world,” certain lessons fall to the wayside and there’s a great deal of self-education for new employees. At entry level, you have a fresh perspective of college, its tangible takeaways and the real inner workings of your industry. In the coming weeks, new interns will be familiar with these realizations. You’re both still discovering how a 20-something fits into the working world; real learning occurs when both sides have something to gain. Bounce ideas off each other. Walk them through their daily routine. You’ll gain steadier footing along the way.

Take the Lead.

About a year into my first “real person” job, I noticed a significant hole in my skill set. The baby in my office, I had absolutely no managerial experience. It’s not like I never looked after anyone before– I had 19 years experience as an older sister and spent two years as a kindergarten monitor back in middle school. But as far as work was concerned, I had little to no influence on the learning curve.

So when I saw the opportunity to serve as a mentor, I jumped. When I first chatted with my manager, I was nervous– was it presumptuous to assume I was advanced enough to advise? Apparently not. He agreed it was a great opportunity to connect with our incoming staff while honing my own leadership skills.

Even if you don’t have the bandwidth to manage an intern, offer to help them prioritize their workload or answer any questions they may have. You don’t need to be a supervisor to share the tricks of the trade. Are you a whiz at filtering emails? Pass it on. Know a swift way to assemble media lists? Share the wealth.

Since you’re the lowest on the totem pole, you may find that the intern is asked to alleviate some of your duties. Don’t just see this as an opportunity to snag some free time, but a chance to develop management expertise. In any office, initiative is appreciated. In addition to orientating the intern, you’ll enhance your own skills while streamlining activity and making a good impression on senior staff.

Stay Connected.

Progress is hard to distinguish on a day-to-day basis. When working alongside someone new, almost immediately, you’ll see firsthand exactly how much you’ve grown. Remember that age difference? Keep it close. Sooner than you realize, that intern will be graduating and climbing the corporate ladder themselves. Don’t underestimate the power of networking– one day soon, they may serve as a great resource whether as an industry peer, business lead or hook into a new career. You never know where anyone will wind up, including yourself. But no matter what, it will be nice to have a friendly face in your corner.

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