The Great Internship Debate

We have FAR more to learn from interns than they have to learn from us.

Awesome Ara Institute interns: Bri Millward and Tasya Oka

Ministry of Awesome is totally in favour of internships. We have been since Day Zero. If you are considering hiring an intern for a job, we think it’s a good way to not only gain a pipeline of amazing potential employees for affordable if not free work but you will learn much more about yourself and the organisation that you think you will. I shared some of my personal learnings below.

Erica Austin, our Events Awesomist, recently formalised our internship programme at Ministry of Awesome. She saw this as a great opportunity to help young people transition into the workplace. “I wanted to create a safe place for anyone to have a go — to test and experiment and try out new things and not feel restricted.” We’ve all been through internships that have helped us get to where we are today. Erica’s big vision was to create a “waterfall internship” where we could attract more awesome young people to lead the next group of interns. “It’s a sustainable programme.”

Ministry of Awesome is the starting point for a lot of people, not just interns. Budding entrepreneurs are offered a safe place to experiment, connect, and get 1-on-1 support here. We have a coworking spot, centrally located in the city with a cool vibe (if we do say so ourselves!) and love to collaborate with others on what’s new and innovative for them. We want to see people “give it a go”. We also practice what we preach, hence Erica’s interest in experimenting with a new, robust and holistic programme for interns.

Ministry of Awesome has had 16 interns through our doors in only 4 years! They’ve come from many of the institutions in Canterbury such as University of Canterbury, Yoobee School of Design and Ara Institute of Canterbury (formerly CPIT).

Launch Club workshop series, April 2016

Personally, I don’t remember managing interns before becoming the Start-Up Activator at Ministry of Awesome. I have managed paid employees and teams but never interns. I learned quickly things about myself that I didn’t know before. Here are some learnings:

  1. I work best with interns that have a go-getter attitude, who need little direction and who aren’t afraid to ask for what they want.
  2. Treat it like a job (set deadlines, create project briefs, interview) and the intern will too. There’s very much opportunity for paid work as there is risk in losing the job.
  3. Interns still need to fit an organisation’s culture just like everyone else, even in the short term
  4. Appreciation goes a LONG way. Always show appreciation to someone giving their time for free. Always.
Thank you to all our interns for teaching me these incredibly valuable lessons!

Recently, we launched a workshop series called The Launch Club. We had ZERO collateral for this new product. We were also mid-rebranding and needed to be sure whatever we created aligned with a new look. Erica found three awesome interns from Yoobee to work on design-minded projects for Ministry of Awesome. One worked with me to help build a brand around The Launch Club.

When we first met Adrienne Te Reo, she was a quiet gal but her portfolio spoke volumes. We were very impressed with the beautiful design and experience. We chatted about why she wanted to work here, what she had a passion for and wrote up the brief for the project — a logo for The Launch Club. Based on previous learnings, it was critical we manage ours and her time wisely by leveraging her strengths- beautiful design work.

Adrienne Te Reo. Soon to take off on a journey to Europe with her portfolio to “see what happens”.

Personally, I’ve written briefs before but never at Ministry of Awesome — another first! We discovered that we need to be sure we have our vibe, target market, voice, and must-haves nailed down first. As a team, we had to do a little soul-searching first to make sure we were aligned on those things before sharing it with others. It wasn’t easily translated and we spent a little more time than usual ironing out the details. It was a good exercise for us.

Adrienne sent me five logos to start with. I went back to her with suggestions on how to keep it more aligned with the current logo and brand. I think I even mentioned to her something about making it look “more like a hamburger or sandwich” — a nightmare for designers! BUT she created a logo with four other variations that I immediately loved:

Adrienne’s Launch Club logos

When I interviewed Adrienne, I was surprised that Adrienne didn’t expect us to use the collateral immediately. I was eager to put her beautiful speech-bubble-influenced (not the terrible sandwich I mentioned earlier) logo on all our promotion and sales collateral. It was going to be all over social media and our ticket sales. “At school, you’re used to creating work that never gets seen or is only created for a hypothetical project. It feels nice to see it out in public.” Adrienne comes to our coworking space almost every week just to have a warm, welcoming place to work with around other cool people. It also helps when she has questions for us, she can just turn around and show us her work and ask questions.

If you are ever going to ask an intern for help, use our template here to start thinking about what you want and ask them to show up to the office. Don’t count on remote work only or Skype calls to get your initial pitch/brief explained to a new intern.

Keep your interns informed when they aren’t there. If they have exams coming up, acknowledge where priorities are and adjust accordingly. Tell them what’s coming next, what’s happening now and include them in on team info. Once you’ve gained their trust and believe in their ability to do work (after the first small project), keep feeding them new projects but be sure to ask them what they want to work on. Do they want to explore more designs based on a new logo they made? Do they want to tear apart your slide decks and letterheads? Do they have an idea for a social media campaign to run for your 4,000th like on Facebook? Encourage them to think big and dream up a new project on their own.

Awesome intern, Halana Dash presenting at Coffee & Jam

During interviews for internships, we love to get to know them on a deeper level. What makes them tick? Why do they want to be here? What do they want to improve on? Use that as the basis for their time with you.

Halana Dash was an intern who came on board before Unreasonable Lab NZ last year. She loved Coffee & Jam so much she asked if she could host the event before she went back to the US, giving her time to practice her public speaking skills and see what it’s like. We love that sort of question! She now has dreams of bringing Coffee & Jam to her entrepreneur community in Philadelphia, PA. USA. She also sends us lovely emails every so often to keep us updated on her job hunt.

Georgina “George” Campbell was another awesome intern we had several years back. She wanted to start a blog to practice writing more and get her name out there. Her blog is called Tomorrow Walker and she featured stories of people in the city doing awesome things. We featured her blog on our website to help her get exposure. Since then, she’s gone on to other writing gigs and now works at The Press.

Georgina Campbell from The Press, killin’ it in the red blazer.

Communication is key! We learned how to translate what we know as an organisation and team to something that would make sense to a newcomer. “What comes naturally to us, or seems like common sense, isn’t always the case,” says Erica. “That’s why we need interns! We learn how to manage people while giving them a safe place to test new things. We all gain from the experience.”

Written by Catarina Gutierrez. Photos by Erica Austin.

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