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Are Your Interns Wasting Their Time?

Daily work flow document is a key element to a successful program

“Every afternoon when I walk through our stations, I see a group of interns sitting around doing nothing,” the general manager lamented.

“It seems like we never have enough for the interns to do. And yesterday I even had a parent call to complain about his daughter’s experience interning for us. I’m thinking about pulling the plug on the whole deal. What do you think?” I don’t just think, I know: Great internship programs at radio stations are rare.

The common issues are lack of structure, no clear leadership and poor screening of candidates. Station managers who can’t or won’t deal with these problems should eliminate their internship programs.

The smarter managers will read the rest of this article and then execute a plan to transform interns into highly productive members of the team. Let’s start with the basics.

Get it in writing

Never allow anyone to intern at your radio station without a paper trail indicating that they are obtaining educational credit from a bona fide institution. Without a valid educational connection, you are actually putting someone to work without pay, which may have consequences.

Although I have brought on a few high school students as interns, this should be an exception rather than common practice. Most kids under 17 are not mature enough to work in an entertainment workplace. This is something you have watch for with college students as well, but at least many of them are starting to think about trying to obtain real jobs. That in itself can make them more responsible.

When you take recruitment seriously, you can obtain candidates who are a better fit.

Attend at least two college intern fairs per year; most events require only two hours. Spend five minutes individually with prospects who come to your booth.

iStockphoto/Andrew Rich

Ask why they want to intern with your station and find out what they want to learn. If all you get is questions about free tickets and meeting celebrities, move on. Invite the best candidates to see you at the station for a tour and longer interview.

You should also run a year-round ad on your website asking for résumés. Screen them by looking for relevant content, good writing and experience that may be of use.

One person at the station should be in charge of your internship program. The head of the program must be an excellent organizer and in-person communicator who truly enjoys working with younger people. Due to time constraints, this person may have to ask others to help with interviewing, getting the paperwork done from the schools and organizing the interns.

Today’s tasks

Every program needs a solid job description of intern responsibilities. This should be modified to fit each department; create one description for a sales intern, another for a technical or programming intern.

The program should begin with a group meeting, during which the leader goes over the job descriptions and other expectations such as dress, hours and behavior in the workplace.

Be very clear about your willingness to speak privately with any intern about issues. They need to know that your door is open in case a situation comes up that they are not mature enough to deal with on their own. Not surprisingly, I’ve had female interns complain about being harassed by male disc jockeys.

It’s vital to provide fast and real resolution when you determine validity of claims. Most of the time, it’s just a misunderstanding or someone overstepping boundaries. However, you should know that if an intern feels uncomfortable coming to you or thinks that you won’t take him or her seriously, you may find yourself dealing with parents, lawyers or both.

Now here’s the most important key to success: Your intern program must have a daily work flow document.

The document lists tasks to be accomplished that day as well as longer-term assignments. All interns check the document for their assignments upon their arrival. If you feel you’re unable to invest the time in creating and maintaining this work document, you should cut back on the number of interns or eliminate your program.

An office full of interns hanging out with no direction is, as my GM friend correctly surmised, a recipe for wasting a lot of people’s time.

If you’re short on office space, consider that not all interns have to be at your office to be useful. Those helping with your website may be able to work from home if they are sharp and reliable. Others who help at events can simply meet you at those activities.

Finally, remember that you owe your interns an educational experience. The good news for you is that those who teach also learn.

Mark Lapidus is president of Lapidus Media.