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​The Reality of Interning: How to be a Great Boss - Part 3

By Hannah Rafter


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One of the most neglected and complex areas of fashion internships is the effective support and management of interns. All my discussions with companies who hire interns say they believe interns are a valuable part of the company and in return they offer the individual valuable experience of the world of work. In the final part of the "Reality of Interning" series, I focus on how fashion companies can ensure they offer interns a great experience and get a strong team-player in return.

We’ve previously acknowledged the importance of the intern being realistic about their role but it’s a two way street. Interns are entitled to have a clear idea of the position, what is expected of them and how they will be supported. Those employers who effectively plan their internship placements undoubtedly gain more from their interns, with the investment possibly resulting in the recruitment of a full time employee. One of my previous bosses in New York told me when I started, “we won’t treat you as the intern, we’ll treat you as if you are our next colleague, we will train you to be good enough to work here”. Those wise words have stuck with me especially when I work alongside new interns and now I make a conscious effort to ensure sure my expectations of them are known and their expectations of the internship are aligned.

The suggestions below will be great pointers to those about to hire new interns, those who currently have interns and those who are looking to hire interns in the future. They will help make sure that everyone’s experience worthwhile – so be a great boss and have a read.

1. Give interview feedback

If you call someone for interview and they are unsuccessful do offer feedback, especially if you have promised it at the end of the interview. Yes I can imagine you are very busy, but many interns attending interviews that are often held in London have travelled some distance and at some cost. Should they be chasing you for that feedback that you promised? They are eager for your advice, so try and make the time to give it willingly and honestly.

2. Have a programme

The very best placements have a well thought out programme for the intern. If this placement is to do the administrative/desk and the lunch run each day, then be upfront about it. If someone is going to spend time with you planning what you want the intern to achieve over a period of time, who they will meet and what activities they will be involved in is key. Will the intern work across several departments, or is the role very specific and time bound? Do you have projects for the interns to work on that could be useful to you and them? What are the training opportunities?

3. Who will manage them?

This is vital. The success of developing a great intern is hugely determined by their manager and mentor. Interns can accomplish big things when they are set achievable targets, given supportive guidance and feel as if they are part of the team. The company should aim to find someone who enjoys working with young individuals, who is patient and has the skill set to organise, coach and encourage. I know we look for initiative but interns don’t come fully formed with all the answers (even if they think they do) – they need help!

4. Set them their own projects

There are many tasks which an intern can carry out, but how many projects do you have which you wished could be developed/accomplished more quickly? Or how many initiatives does your company hope to kick start that can be taken on by young, smart individuals or teams. Assigning a small project, broken down into small tasks with frequent reviews can help them learn quicker, while keeping them focused and making them feel a valued part of the team contributing to the company.Having said that don't overload them with too much work and try not to project your anxieties and frustrations onto them!

5. Meet 1-1 for coffee or lunch once a week

No doubt your intern will have daily interaction with their mentor or line manager but giving them one on one time is truly valuable. By having an informal catch up, such as a 30 minute meeting once a week, allows them to open up to you and for you to get to know them better. You can answer their questions while getting a better grasp on what they are and aren't enjoying in the internship. The most common complaint from interns is feeling they are being taken for granted or dumped on. Continual dialogue such as this should make the intern feel involved and listened to.

6. Goals and feedback

From my own experience I have interned with companies where I had no sense of what they wanted me to achieve in any given week or month. Work was simply a series of tasks to get through. By setting quantifiable goals you can measure how well your intern is getting on and how their skills are developing while discovering discover their strengths and weaknesses. This is important for you and your intern, they need to learn what they are good at and be able to work to deadlines. It also provides an opportunity to give feedback, raise any concerns about their work and hopefully prevent a situation where you realise the intern is not for you and vice versa. The end of the week is the perfect opportunity to teach them how they could have done something better or praise them for something they did well.

7. Share the big picture

Where appropriate allow the intern access to information about the company that isn’t available more widely or on public record. This is their only opportunity to get to know more about how a fashion company works and this often includes things not taught at university/college. A great intern will be curious and will benefit hugely from learning the ins and outs of an organisation. Sharing the bigger picture and bigger goals for the organisation will let them see what they are part of and what they are working towards.

8. Encourage your interns to ask questions

Remember the importance of the intern asking questions, so encourage it! As their mentor or manager you need to let them know the importance of asking questions! It should make your life easier and allow you to recognise when you need to explain more clearly or provide more training. It will save you and them a lot of time if questions are being asked and answered!

9. Help them learn

In universities, students are told that when interning, that they should ask to be involved in as much training as possible. So a sk yourself this: is there a course you are going on where your intern can benefit as well? Is there a team meeting they can sit in on? A client visit? Any opportunity they may have to experience the work of another department, encourage it. Experiences like these can be incredibly useful for them when they are seeking their first role in the industry.

10. Enjoy them!

Having great interns in your office can be fun and it should be fun! Working in fashion is often fast paced and stressful, and trust me, the interns feel this stress and pressure too. So loosen up, allow them to laugh, have treat days with them and let them know you're human!

And finally….. Most interns want to do a really good job and are eager to please and impress and are hugely valuable to the industry which is why I am a big advocate for them. They are the next generation coming through in the industry so try to listen to them, allow them to speak and treat them how you would have liked to have been treated when you were starting out– oh, and if you want to be a really great boss, pay them.

Happy Interning and good luck in the future!

By contributing guest editor Hannah Rafter, founder and Editor In Chief of The Intern 247, a website dedicated to giving real insights into the world of fashion. @theintern247 theintern247.com

fashion internships
The Reality of Interning