Internships, Apprenticeships: Mentoring New Graduates

How To Mentor Through Internships

The current job market is a tough one for recent college graduates. It’s become a vicious cycle of “you need more experience for this entry level position” without businesses being willing to give the graduate a chance to gain that knowledge.

Some businesses allow college students to work for minimum wage, or less, while gaining experience, but current internships usually leave interns lacking in true skills when their time is up. They run errands, get coffee, maybe take notes in meetings, but get no real hands-on experience, often because of fear that the intern will make a mistake or sheer lack of responsibility for teaching them.

Jenna Oltersdorf, founder of public relations firm Snackbox, is trying to change that trend. She and I recently e-mailed about why mentoring through internships is so important and how other companies can implement a program that works for them.

Why Are Internships So Important?

While a name on resume looks good on paper, it doesn’t mean that the intern has acquired the necessary skill set to complete the job they’re applying for.

“Experience is your biggest asset when job hunting as a new graduate. It’s what sets you apart from other applicants, not only the places you’ve interned but also the special skills you’ve picked up along the way,” Jenna said.

If employers are worried about letting an intern make a mistake on the job, the future employee will never learn how to do the job properly. That means when employers are looking to fill a new position, they’re searching through a pool of applicants that they will end up likely having to retrain.

How Does Snackbox Do It Differently?

Snackbox has created a structured program that allows interns to learn at their own pace.

“We immerse them in our business and the work that we do for our clients. We treat them as if they are a full-time, permanent employee so they can get the flavor for what working in a PR firm is like, what the real work world is like,” Jenna explained.

The overall goal of the program is to ensure each apprentice gets a wide range of valuable experience. Snackbox provides a checklist on their first day on the job so they can see the bigger picture of what they are learning.

Jenna also schedules “teaching moments” in a group setting after they’ve been in the program for about a month. This is an opportunity to sit down with the CEO to gain knowledge about a specific subject matter such as media materials, the media outreach process, and media training. One-on-ones with the CEO are scheduled at regular intervals to check in on progress, review the checklist, and talk about what the individual is enjoying or struggling with.

Within the first few weeks, interns will work with reporters, write actual media alerts that will be distributed to the media, and so much more. By implementing this type of apprenticeship, interns are truly ready for the real world.

How Can Other Companies Implement This Type Of Program?

By developing an outline of the types of tools an intern must learn in order to be successful in your business, you can be sure they walk away with a strong education through practice and repetition. But it’s not all about the work. It’s important to check in with your interns, to give them time with senior leadership, to cultivate their interests, and mentor them on to success.

Jenna suggests always having open and inviting communication with interns so they are not afraid to ask questions or ask for help. It’s also important to take into consideration what type of learner your intern is and adjust your teaching style accordingly.

“By mentoring through apprentices, you are not only giving your time to help someone launch their career, but you’re also creating a champion of your own brand, whether they are with you for a short semester or will be with your company until they retire,” Jenna said. “Every company is different so each should adjust their implementation process accordingly.”


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