Our Tips for Winning Internships

At Ventures, we employ scores of Rose-Hulman student interns every year to work closely with our clients on product development and innovation. As a result, our interns get valuable real-world work experience while our client companies gain potential new employees while benefiting from the fresh perspectives, boundless energy and strong work ethic the interns bring to every assignment.
An unintended byproduct of our business model has been the amassing of valuable experience working with interns and understanding what it takes to make an internship a win-win for the client and the student. To share the fruits of this experience, we’ve asked our director of engineering, Brian Dougherty, to pen some of his most valuable insights on how to make an internship a success for everyone involved.
Brian’s Tips:

  • Teach the Basics – and Stand Back! Interns usually don’t have much practical knowledge, so you will probably have to teach them some very basic skills or techniques. This is especially true in industries that contain a lot of niche information. However, interns from a place like Rose-Hulman are highly intelligent, learn very quickly, and will surprise you with how fast, and how far they stretch their new skills.  A little investment teaching the basics pays off quickly.
  • Harness Their Energy and Brains Interns work better where energy and intelligence are important, not where experience is necessary. For example, it’s rare to find an intern who can contribute significantly to high-level design concepts. They simply lack the experience to know which ideas are practical, and which will run into trouble. However, if I create a high-level outline, I can use the raw horsepower of the interns to fill in the details.
  • Keep the Leash Short, at First Interns need a lot of guidance, especially for the first few days.  Even once they seem to have their feet under them, you need to check in on them every hour or so to make sure they are still pointed in the right direction.
  • Garbage In, Garbage Out If you take an intern, give them a project, and leave them to their own devices for several days or weeks, you will get precisely what you put into the project – nothing.  However, if you put some meaningful effort into managing the interns, you will reap an appropriate return on your investment.
  • Leverage Your Experience Anyone who has been in the workforce for very long will have amassed a wealth of knowledge that is uniquely their own. This is the stuff that seems so obvious to you, that you just assume everybody knows it. However, if you stop and think about it, why would a 20-year-old know how O-ring sizing works, or why the technician down the hall gets grumpy when you fill the prototype PCB design with 0204 resistors? Don’t underestimate the importance of your years of knowledge.
  • Share Your War Stories Your company wants the maximum output from an intern, but keep in mind that the intern’s goal is to learn. This is especially important if you see the intern as a potential full-time employee down the road. I make time to share past experiences with the interns and am often shocked at how closely they listen to my “war stories,” and how much of that information they internalize.