This summer, ThinkViral hired our first two real interns: Remy Gordon and Leah Thomas, both seniors at Shawnee Mission South High School. While most companies hire college interns, we wanted to give these younger high school kids a shot to see what they could actually do.
Because of the level of responsibility and ethics required from ThinkViral employees, Gordon and Thomas were not chosen lightly. They are both top of their classes, Gordon, a national honor student focused on engineering, and Thomas, also a national honor student has dreams of working with technology startups. Book-smart indeed, but both professionally “green!” What a fun summer this turned out to be.
Maybe we were just lucky, but the stereotypes we were warned about with this new “Generation Z” did not prove to be accurate. These two 17-year-olds were incredibly hardworking, dedicated, and driven, and they both craved guidance from real-world professional experiences. We learned they were motivated to learn almost anything – if companies would just give them a chance. What companies tend to do with younger interns is put them in a cubicle with envelopes and a stack of letters to mail and at the end of the day, all they learn is how to run a postage machine.
What we learned from Gordon and Thomas was they don’t want to wait until they’re older to have professional experiences. They want to learn NOW and will seek out opportunities where they can be an asset, not an envelope stuffer. Because of that, we did our very best to show them how to become valuable for companies they may one day represent.
Remy came up with the idea to use the hashtag #followtheinterns so everyone could follow what they were involved in during their time at ThinkViral and we used it diligently in all our tweets and posts!
Here’s what else we did to ensure their internship was purposeful…
1.) We gave each intern a partner
Both Gordon and Thomas each had a partner at ThinkViral so they had someone to go to for help at all times. The partner was responsible for training their intern and was expected to actively seek out opportunities for their intern to meet some decision-makers in the intern’s preferred industry.
One thing all businesses worry about is making sure employees are properly trained and bringing interns on board that had never worked in a professional environment really helped us define what works, and what doesn’t, in terms of engaging new employees. We didn’t expect it but they were a huge part of helping us sort out new onboarding and training processes for future employees.
2.) We paid our interns more than minimum wage
When interns feel respected and valued, they tend to work harder and produce better results. Paying them for their time is one of the best ways you can show them they matter. We paid our interns $10 per hour, plus we set aside $1 in college funds for every hour they worked so we could reward them with a bonus check once they graduated from high school.
Gordon and Thomas earned every penny and consistently showed us they were mature enough to handle commercial responsibilities. Five days a week, they worked alongside our full-time employees and did an incredible job managing complex issues for companies online. Giving them ownership allowed them to fail – with guidance, so they could understand what it felt like to refocus, improve, and make changes if things went south.
3.) We gave our interns a professional identity
Most interns are given a generic “[email protected]” or [email protected] type of e-mail address but we know our interns are humans and would probably like to see their own name going back and forth in conversations online. Our interns were given a work email address personalized with their names and were taught how to set themselves up on LinkedIn with student profiles so they could start following the colleges they’d like to attend.
We also taught them to follow companies where they may have an interest in working, and to connect with influencers we introduced them to over the summer. Beyond skills, how much better will our interns look on their college applications when admissions staff finds them on LinkedIn?! Not only can they demonstrate on-the-job work experience, but they also show they have substantial influencers in their tool belts!
“Business doesn’t always happen as they teach you in school or in books,” says Gordon. “It’s great to have real-life on-the-job training to acquire some of the valuable skills I know will help out in the future.”
4.) We taught our interns how to network
Knowing how to network with other businesses both off and online requires real business acumen and we often gave our interns the ability to listen and learn, under the safe umbrella of our brand.
Both interns attended a variety of business events where they learned how to mix and mingle with different industries
“This internship helped us connect to real business people with real business problems, and figure out ways to help them,” said Thomas. “We not only learned who to talk to at networking events but how to talk to them.”
5.) We provided opportunities to meet decision-makers
Because our team has so many awesome connections, we wanted to make sure our interns were hooked up with the right people who could help them most along their journeys. A LOT of collaboration with others is required for businesses to be successful, and it was fun teaching our interns how to collaborate both in-person and online using social media!
“One of my favorite things about this internship was seeing firsthand how all the small businesses work together,” said Thomas. I enjoyed getting to know the KC startup entrepreneur community where some of these ideas are actually originating!”
We ended the summer with a private lunch celebration with Peter DeSilva, President of UMB Financial Corporation, in UMB Bank’s private executive dining room.
“ThinkViral gave me a great opportunity this summer that helped me in so many ways I never saw coming,” said Gordon. “I’m extremely grateful for all I was able to experience and accomplish in such a short amount of time.”
A big THANK YOU goes out to a few people who went out of their way to help Remy and Leah… Rick Lavelock from Honeywell FM&T, Mark Brown from Burger and Brown Engineering, Gary Quint from Commenco, Bob Langenkamp from the Economic Development Corporation of KCMO, Vickie Wolgast from the South KC Chamber, and Peter DeSilva from UMB Bank.
Your leadership lessons weren’t something they could have found in a book, and your willingness to spend time with them has motivated us to do this again!