Losing Your Sense of (Wonder) Bread Wrappers — Or Finding An Intern

When I was a kid, there were two kinds of boots: the kind you struggled to tug on and off over your shoes, and shoe boots, those “cool” boots you wore and then carried your shoes to school. Shoe boots were fashionable, easy to get on and off and a lot more expensive than regular snow boots. So a lot of kids used Wonder Bread wrappers in their snow boots to help get them on and off. My kindergarten early mornings turned from bouts of vexed crying and a string of “godd***its” coming out of my 5-year-old mouth to absolute “wonder” at how a simple bread wrapper could change my daily morning torture to a more normal sense of the world.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could discover some kind of “wonder” tool to help get you through the work day? As we sidle out of this recession, I am talking with a lot of desperately tired and unhappy workers, people who are being asked to do too much and work too many hours. They are at the breaking point and feel trapped because they can’t quit. These people have bills to pay, and everyone now knows it is easier to get a new job if you already have one. That sense of wonder at a new job, new technology, new gadgets and new experiences quickly dissipates as exhaustion takes over.

Well, if you can spare the time to interview and train an intern, that student may just very well be your next wonder tool. I’ve found in my experience that an intern can be a tremendous asset or a huge liability. If you do a careful job of interviewing for interns, though, you may find those people who provide a willing extra pair of hands, along with their own sense of wonder at everything that is new to them in the workplace. I’ve seen enthusiastic interns revitalize and motivate some very tired workplaces. Even if your workplace cannot afford to hire an intern, there are school programs that will give the students credit for a certain amount of written work and evaluations on the part of the work supervisor.

So what makes a great intern? Your new intern should have a can-do attitude, something with which you should be familiar if you’ve been doing the work of several employees. This person should be willing to learn — learn about your company, the people and its projects, and the career field. The intern should readily understand his or her part in the organization and be willing to do some of the tedious work that has to be done. He or she should be able to “connect the dots,” make inferences about projects and procedures without having to be spoonfed conclusions by you.

A great internship supervisor clearly spells out what an intern can and cannot do. The supervisor ensures that the intern gets acclimated, meets everyone, and is shown around the premises. Providing meetings and a question and answer time on a weekly basis also helps you keep your intern informed, gives that person a sense that communication is working and that you are interested in his or her progress. Give the intern more responsibility as you see fit. There is one caveat about being an internship supervisor — if you are going to take on an intern, you MUST do the work. It is easy to hire interns and use them as the office dogsbody, giving them all the awful jobs to do while not really supervising them. Put some effort into supervising your new intern. Get a plan in place for what he or she will be doing and get an idea of what your intern wants to learn. Do the intern evaluations and work with your intern so that he or she gets the best experience possible. If you put some effort into it, your summer at work may not be a vacation; however, you may get the revitalizing shot in the arm you need. You may actually also get to take a vacation if your intern turns out to be a competent addition to your workplace.

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