Tips for Great Internships

With 97% of FWT employers satisfied or extremely satisfied with their Field Work Term intern, this opportunity is likely going to be a great one—for you, as well as for your intern.

Bennington students are passionate about learning and working. They will likely arrive at offices, labs, classrooms, studios, and stages ready to roll up their sleeves and dig in. They've chosen Bennington because they believe in the value of testing out classroom theory in practical experience to expand their learning and skills. Your intern has accepted the opportunity to work with you because they're interested in supporting your organization and in understanding its impact and position in the industry and in society. Here are some suggestions on how to ensure this FWT pays big dividends to you both.

Before the Job Starts

Understand their learning goals. Ask the student to share their FWT learning goals with you and imagine how they might meet these goals in this internship. What work could they do? What meetings might they sit in on? What events should they be invited to attend? What skills could they practice using? Who in the organization should they meet? What recommended readings would you suggest? Also, proactively manage expectations early on by letting them know if there is a learning objective that you don't think you can help advance given the work ahead.

Clarify the scope of work. Think about the work that you really need done and would benefit from. If you want them to help you keep up on daily tasks, that's great, but also be sure you've identified a meaty project or two that challenges them to wrap their head around a problem or process and contribute their thinking and advanced skills too. They are looking for real experience in your field.

Determine their supervisor. Ideally, select someone who is eager to have another set of hands on the work, and who has a proven track record mentoring colleagues. Think about who will effectively orient them to the position and company, and who will enjoy mentoring them along the way.

Communicate company norms. Be sure to address nitty-gritty issues like dress code, (un)spoken parking rules, start and end times, building clearance, required paperwork, and anything that will help them arrive and transition into the experience on the right foot.

The First Day

Show them around. A quick tour and key introductions to people with whom they will be working will help them settle in more quickly. Setting them up to have lunch with a colleague will also give them a welcomed inroad to the staff.

Review the position. Giving them a framework early on for the work and how it relates to their learning objectives will help them orient. Discuss your expectations for the project and the position. Share with them any office manuals or materials that will help ground them in the role and in the organization. Explain any relevant official policies and unwritten expectations for employees/volunteers.

Have a workspace ready to go. If a phone, desk, computer, email account, keys, or other equipment will be needed, have them ready when your intern arrives.

Remember they're new. In addition to being new to your organization, they may also be new to work, and/or to your city. Bennington requires students to be exceptionally self-motivated and to take risks—but starting a new job, even for a short period, can be an intimidating process for anyone. If your FWT intern is a first-year student, this may be their first professional experience. Additionally, even students who are more seasoned may be exploring a different part of the country (or the world) and unfamiliar with your local area. Your help in acclimating your intern to your organization and keeping in mind that their learning likely continues as they jump on an unfamiliar subway or sleep in a new (and temporary) home can go a long way.

During the Internship

Help them transition from student to worker. If moments arise when your intern is misreading workplace expectations or norms, address it. This is a critically important part of their learning. Whether it is how to interact with a boss, when to give ideas and when to listen, when to take initiative and when to ask questions, or understanding the value of each step within a larger more complex process, your feedback will help them see potential blind spots that will benefit them throughout their career.

Ensure supervision. Make sure your intern meets with their supervisor at least weekly to discuss progress and to complete their FWT timesheet. This is a great time to give feedback with specific examples from the week and to identify areas for future growth. It also will provide a time to readjust project priorities as needed and to unearth any unexpected issues. A midway mini-evaluation can also help direct a student's focus and approach in useful ways.

Encourage networking. Check in with them about who they are collaborating with and who they may want to reach out to and learn more from, whether in their department or in another.

Call if there is a problem. We anticipate your experience will be a positive one but if you need help with a thorny issue that may have arisen, feel free to reach out to the FWT Office to discuss. We're here to help employers and students get the most out of this experience. Contact us.

At the End

Assign a capstone project or presentation. If appropriate, think about a project that will integrate multiple aspects of work your intern has been assigned over the past seven weeks. Or alternatively, can they practice their presentation skills by demonstrating and/or highlighting a key aspect of the work completed over their time with you to a relevant audience?

Review their evaluation together. After completing the evaluation sent by the FWT Office, schedule a meeting to review this with the intern. Allow time for discussion and questions. Hopefully, your team's ongoing mentorship over the internship will not leave any surprises for the end, but if so, it's better for the student to get a full picture of their strengths and developing edges prior to departing.