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The Extraordinary Internship Experience™

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I was at Queens University for a Board of Visitors’ meeting last week, when the school’s Director of Development approached me talking about interns. It’s that time of year, when students and employers start wondering what they are going to do for the summer.

Internships are highly valued at Queens, so much so that every student is required to complete one, and the university has a staff devoted to coordinating the internships. But for businesses, particularly smaller shops, the idea can be worrisome. Principals wonder if the experience will be a drag on their time, and they fret over who will supervise the office newbies. Or they worry the interns will sit with nothing to do.

We at Cardinal Real Estate Partners are very process-oriented in how we approach the work we do for our clients, and this has translated very well into how we use our interns. Our approach has been so successful that we’ve documented how it works. Bad experiences, we’ve found, are caused when expectations are not managed and there is a lack of clear communication. Interns did not understand what was expected of them, explanations were muddled, and the chain of command was unclear. All this led to a sense of dissatisfaction that made the internship of little or no value to them. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The key is to get interns involved in projects you choose but that they’re excited about and are fully engaged in. Give them good instruction – you can cover the bases in a one-hour meeting – and you’re good to go.

Here’s a shortened explanation of our winning process:

  1. Come up with 10 projects you need done. For example, updating a contact database, taking photos of properties, or interviewing tenants. Walk through each project with your intern and have them rate them on their interest in each. Take their top three choices and chose one project.
  2. Meet the next week and discuss the goal of the project. Clearly define what you want them to do, and how everyone needs to feel when the project is done.
  3. On a giant piece of paper, write the goal and list all obstacles they are going to have to overcome to get to end result. Include all potential problems, from where do they need to go to get approval for certain tasks to how do they get into the building and where do they park, to what a final report should look like.
  4. Have everyone brainstorm together to solve the obstacles. For example, if they have to talk to brokers, write a script together for them to follow.
  5. After an hour, on this giant piece of paper, there will be a mandate for the people supporting the intern and there will be no question that the intern has what they need to do the job.

The secret sauce is you’ve gotten the interns excited, you’ve fully delegated the project and they’ve taken ownership.

The power of effectively leveraging interns in small business will yield great results. You’ll finish projects you’ve procrastinated on, and I’ve found our interns provide a lot of energy over the summer. It’s nice to have a young person who’s really excited about your business and your industry around, and they’ll come up with ideas that will astonish you.

Now, this is a highly abridged version of the process we use, which includes finding the interns in the first place and making sure they are a good fit. To learn more about the process, and see a cool example the The Strategy Circle we use, download our white paper HERE.

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