This summer, ThinkViral hired our first two real interns: Remy Gordon and Leah Thomas, both seniors at Shawnee Mission South High School. While most interns tend to be going into, or are already in college, we wanted to give these younger kids a shot to see what they could actually do.

Because of the level of responsibility, 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 with dreams of working with startups someday. 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 “GenerationZ” did not prove to be accurate. Two 17-year-olds showed us they are incredibly hardworking, dedicated and driven, and they crave guidance in real-world professional experiences. They can learn almost anything and can be motivated to learn almost anything, but most companies are not providing experiences that actually motivate kids to want to learn more. They stick them in a cubicle with 10 boxes of envelopes and a stack of letters. At the end of the day, they learn how to run a postage machine. 

What we learned from our interns is they won’t wait. They want their brains to be used and they will seek out those opportunities where they can most be an asset. If you won’t use their brain cells, someone else will. Because of that, we did our best to show them how to make themselves valuable assets for the companies they will eventually work for, and gather as many tools in their tool belts as possible along the way. Including people.

Remy came up with the idea to use the hashtag #followtheinterns so that everyone could follow along with what they were involved in. Every time we posted about them, we used the #followtheinterns hashtag so larger companies would pick them up and tell us what their interns were doing in return.

Here’s what else we did to make sure our intern program was worthwhile….

1.) We gave our interns partners

Both Gordon and Thomas each had a partner at ThinkViral they could go to for help at all times. The partner was responsible for training the intern on all responsibilities and was expected to actively seek out opportunities for each intern to meet decision makers in their preferred industry.

One thing all businesses deal with is making sure employees have been properly trained and bringing these interns on board helped us determine what’s going to work, and what isn’t, in terms of getting new people up to speed. It really helped us sort out new processes in how we onboard new employees, and it was helpful to have the fresh eyes of our interns providing feedback on what they thought was most useful.   

Coworking at Sprint Accelerator & dessert options at Sasha's Baking Company. #FollowtheInterns

2.) We paid our interns more than minimum wage

When interns are treated like humans you care about, they will work harder to do better work. That starts with paying them for their time. We paid our interns $10 per hour this summer and let them know that we viewed them as an investment in the business, and in the community.  

remyStephanie

Many interns feel less valued if they are not paid. They expect you will give them envelopes to stuff, or treat them with rude behavior because they have to “pay their dues.”  Gordon and Thomas paid their dues through their hard work, and consistently showed us they were mature enough to earn a paycheck. They worked right alongside our full-time employees five days a week and were given ownership of several high-level account management duties. We believe giving them ownership allowed them to fail – with guidance, and understand what it feels like to refocus, improve, and make something profitable.

We ended the summer by creating a special incentive for our interns to continue working a few hours a week during the school year. (We had to do what we had to do to bait them into staying!!) On their last day (or what they thought was their last day), our team had the honor of joining Peter DeSilva, President of UMB Financial Corporation, in UMB Bank’s private executive dining room to share the news about the special incentive. We announced that for every hour our interns worked this past summer, and every hour they work from now until graduation in May 2016, we will donate one dollar in scholarship money and award them a check at graduation.

ThinkViral interns with UMB Bank's Peter deSilva in the executive dining room.

“ThinkViral gave me a great opportunity this summer that helped me in so many ways I never could’ve seen coming. I am extremely grateful for all I was able to experience and accomplish in such a short amount of time,” said Gordon.

3.) We gave our interns their own 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 name 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.

ThinkViral Interns on Linkedin

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, they also show they have substantial influencers in their tool belts!

Commenco Sales Meeting with Motorola Solutions, EAG Advertising

“Business doesn’t always happen like 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.”

A big THANK YOU goes out to a few people who went out of their way to make an impact: Rick Lavelock from Honeywell, 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. An hour of time with you will be remembered in the minds of our two interns forever. Your lessons aren’t something they can find in a book, and your willingness to give back to those who want to learn only motivates us to continue doing the same.

4.) We turned our interns into “Free Salespeople”

A free salesperson is an advocate for your business, without you having to ask them to advocate for your business. We taught our interns how to network with other businesses online, giving them the ability to listen and learn, under the safe umbrella of our brand. Their networking resulted in more “sharing,” which means more eyes landed on our company’s website. More eyes translated to more sales, which means the interns directly contributed to the profitability of our company just because they “liked” and “shared” our stuff online.

They also joined us at a variety of business events, where they learned how to mix and mingle with all kinds of industries, and all kinds of people. “This internship helped us connect to real business people with real business problems, and figure out ways to help them. We not only learned who to talk to at networking events but how to talk to them,” says Thomas.

EDCKC Cornerstone Awards May 2015

EDCKC Cornerstone Awards 

Corporate Woods 40th Anniversary Party - Jazz In The Woods

Corporate Woods 40th Anniversary Party – Jazz In The Woods 

5.) We gave our interns opportunities – and a reason to keep seeking them out

Your interns should feel like their lives were positively impacted after working for your company so if you’re not interested in properly educating or creating opportunities for them, you shouldn’t have them.

It was important to us to show Thomas and Gordon a real-life glimpse of how the world works and because we primarily work with manufacturing, engineering, and construction companies, we know we can share our insight into how things are created, distributed and ultimately purchased by other businesses and consumers. There is a lot of collaboration required for businesses to be successful, and it was fun showing our interns just how far that collaboration can go with social media!

At ThinkViral HQ in KC Startup Village

“One of my favorite things about this internship was seeing firsthand how all the small businesses work together,” says Thomas. I also enjoyed getting to know the KC startup entrepreneur scene, where some of these ideas are actually originating!”

We are excited about all the promise our interns bring to the world of business and are looking forward to spending more time with them during the 2015/2016 school year. ThinkViral grew our bottom line this summer, in large part, due to the value our interns brought to the table. If your interns are only doing busy work…you’re not using their full abilities, and that doesn’t help anyone. If you view them as valuable assets on your team, they tend to live up to that expectation and the result could end up for you like it did for us, bringing additional profit to the company, and educating two humans on the value of solving problems.