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Internship lessons for managers
5 takeaways for companies overseeing interns
As another summer internship season comes to an end, an intern's managers and previous coworkers will continue on with their jobs. But, for your beloved interns, we will be returning to a life of $400 textbooks, 7 a.m. classes, midnight study sessions, and detoxing from the La Croix water addiction we obtained on the job.
This summer, I was a Red Hat intern and conducted a top-secret operation with high-quality survey methods (OK, maybe just some interviews and conversations). I wanted to gain insight into the factors that ensure a successful internship experience at Red Hat. Some may not realize that there is a strong internship program here, on which the company prides itself. Red Hat realizes the importance of teaching future employees from the ground up. And, the feedback I got from the interns I spoke with was overwhelmingly positive. They noted similar reasons for their best experiences as well as those things that could be improved upon.
First, thank you!
I want to thank Red Hat for the opportunity to intern this summer. And, I can say that every single one of us is leaving with a new perspective on our futures and careers.
The number of interns who have completed multiple internships over the years at Red Hat is amazing; these people want to come back. The internship program here is truly fantastic. Red Hatters offers us support and guidance each day, and we have all gained valuable skills and insights about ourselves this summer.
As Owen Wilson puts it so eloquently in The Internship:
"If a window opens up, don't minimize it. Don't click that little red X in the corner."
Downtime and small tasks
Let me share a secret we were all scared to admit during the first few days at Red Hat: There wasn't a lot to do! The first few days of our internship involved having the same discussion: "What are you doing? Do you know what to do yet?"
The good news is that we got to know Mojo, one of Red Hat's internal collaboration tools, very well. Most internships require a bit of settling into, so after initial introductions there is typically some downtime. This is a good time to give an intern some small tasks (i.e. sitting in meetings, shadowing, reviewing PowerPoint slides, accessing software, etc).
The complexity of the company
Red Hat for one is a complex company with a complex business model. Think: subscriptions, Mojo, and open source—oh my! (And I haven't even mentioned all the acronyms.) As interns, even when we thought we understand the basic Red Hat business model, we discovered we were barely scratching the surface. Red Hat is a big business, and there is simply no way an intern can truly grasp the company's many facets in an 11-week summer internship.
What to do? Help us understand the company's basic structure and understand our work fits into this structure.
We will have questions—lots of questions. So, if we receive a supportive, open response when seeking guidance, we'll continue asking questions and, in turn, be more capable interns. (And, let's not forget about the very important skills we learned from the internal email list about the proper way to park in the parking garage, that recipe for amazing soup, and the pros and cons of moving to a new email platform.)
Intern ≠ gopher
Some say that landing an internship is more difficult than getting a job.
Positions are limited and extremely competitive. Sometimes, getting a job feels like it requires hundreds of interviews, three new suits, demonstrating a mastery of quantum physics, and creating new coding solutions. And then you find out you'll be clicking away, editing and retyping papers, getting coffee, or making copies all day. Click, click, click. Coffee. Copies. Click, click. Copies. Coffee. Click.
The good news is that an internship at Red Hat is not typical. Red Hat wants its interns to do meaningful projects.
Interns want to do whatever is asked of us, even if that means the occasional copying. But keep in mind that although we may have excellent typing and barista skills, we really want our teammates' help with learning valuable skills and making us competitive when we graduate. Would you hire us if copying were listed in our resume skill set? Chances are we wouldn't make it through the first round of interviews. Remember that an intern's true compensation is the experience and an expanded desire to do well.
Take advantage of our talent, creativity, and new perspective. We want to learn, grow, and contribute!
Everyone needs a counselor mentor
At many workplaces, your manager is your mentor. And, sometimes your manager is open, communicative, and engaged. However, on those rare occasions an intern ends up with a manager like Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada (someone who ends conversations with the neck-tingling "That's all"), it's nice to have options.
Assign interns a mentor when they arrive to ensure the opportunity to ask questions, vent, seek counsel, or just get an outside perspective.
Can I sit with you?
This is a big one. Huge.
By far, the number one thing that can make or ruin an internship is being included (or not). Take time to get to know your interns, and invite them to team meetings, activities, and lunches. We learn a lot just by being in attendance. This creates a positive environment and allows us to feel like we have the freedom to contribute and add input.
At Red Hat, I appreciated being trusted with projects. It can be easy to feel a bit isolated or "scotch-taped onto the teams" as an intern, and the small things to be included made me feel good and become integrated into the team.
As Jim Whitehurst writes in The Open Organization about his early days at Red Hat:
"There wasn't a traditional hierarchy and special treatment for leaders, at least not the kind that you might find at most other companies. In time, I also learned that Red Hat believed in the open source principle of meritocracy; that the best idea wins regardless of whether the idea comes from the top executive or a summer intern. Put another way, my early experiences with Red Hat introduced me to what the future of leadership looks like."
This article is part of the series of Red Hat Intern Stories. These interns share their experiences about what it’s been like to work for an open organization, and more.