The Trouble (and Rewards) with Interns

“Life is like a box of chocolates … you never know what you’re gonna git,”  Forrest Gump said his mother told him. Well, she could have been talking about interns in that metaphor, too.

Our latest intern, Christian Rusli.

In the world of advertising and marketing, interns are like the summer annual known as “lantana.” Around May they start showing up at all the nurseries and hardware stores, and they look good because they don’t need a lot of water and have a nice variety of colors. By the end of August, they can look a little ragged, you kind of get sick of them and you can’t wait to rip them out for something more fresh and useful.

Sounds harsh. Well, the truth hurts. You see, I was an intern once upon a time. I worked at a magazine called Monterey Life in Monterey, California. It was a great summer, which then turned into a Fall and Spring part time job my senior college year. I learned a great deal from those people and often wonder how they are all doing so many years later. It was learning the hard way – by direct experience. My editor was a strong person and she did not believe in special treatment for young people. I am certain that she drained a box of red pens on my first few articles. She left no punches unthrown, determined to make me a better writer by treating me like her most seasoned vets. Her staff of young artists and journalists took the same approach, although with a bit gentler handling. I often think of them all fondly.

So it is that our latest intern summer comes to an end here at bloomfield knoble. As I stated, we have hosted several interns over the past 15+ years or so of our program. In general, most of the interns are not helpful. In fact, they are a drag on the team. It is impossible to sift through them at first and pick which is likely to be useful and, more importantly, gain important skills and career – even life lessons – while they are here at bk. Our goal is always to find a mutual need and benefit for our program. Rarely is that goal met each summer.

The issue generally comes down to either their being too shy or too certain to be of any use. If an intern is uncertain of their ability to make a real contribution, they generally wait for direction and sit looking at their computer screen so as not to be a bother. Not useful! The opposite end is true, with some interns running through assignments quickly and then having to redo them constantly, never actually completing one to satisfaction. They don’t think anyone here has anything to offer them. I usually make sure they understand the public pool is hiring lifeguards and help them apply.

I have had an intern tell me they were “too good to answer telephones,” when asked to cover the front desk if the assistant was out. “Answering phones is beneath me,” he said. He stated that instead he should be working at the level of an Art Director. Well, I agreed that Art Directors are useless, so I showed him the same  door all “Art Directors” use around here – the Exit. We have had interns dress like they are going to a beach party, replete with flip flops and shorts. Then there are the interns that smoke more than they work. Or, of course, the social media interns that spend their time on SnapChat or FourSquare making friends. We make sure they “unfriend” us before turning off their wifi connection and showing them the jobs section on Monster. Immature. Boring. Quiet. Loud. You name it. Our experience should be a movie directed by John Waters or John Hughes. Just too much plot and lack of motivation to not be a great summer movie going experience.

So in 15+ years of our program, I would say 4 were of value, and of those 4, only 2 were exceptional. What made these 2 exceptional? Confidence. Not arrogance, but the ability to act like the adults they are and stand up to the personalities one might find in an advertising agency. Along with confidence, they had an easy humbleness paired with a desire to do well. These traits are special in an individual. It means you believe in yourself, but also know you are here to learn. You don’t run with it too far, and you don’t stand on your feet too long hoping no one will notice you are stuck on something. You just “feel” it and take advantage of a good thing.

Around here we have a simple directive – look it up on Google, ask friends and colleagues and if you still can’t figure it out, that’s why we are here, to teach you once you get stuck. Just take it as far as you can, but don’t go too far. That is a hard concept and very gray. But if you get it, you get into the top 4 around here in terms of interns.

The last intern that made it into the top 2 now works for us full time. He has done so for nearly 4 years now. When you find a good one, homegrown and all, keep them close as long as it is good for all. In the time since we hired him, he has proven what we believed to be true after his first week – he makes us a better organization.

If you have not guessed it yet, today is the last day for our latest intern, Christian Rusli, who has made it into the top 2 interns of all time at bk. He integrated well into our little clique, as well as excelling at his work. To do both is not easy. He leaves with the respect of an office full of long time advertising and marketing professionals. To say we are grizzled and jaded at the edges is a true statement. That said, we all believe in our work and our collaboration. To become a useful part of that, even for a short time and at the fringe, is saying something.

If you are wondering if we plan to hire Christian, the answer is a firm “No.” You see, Christian is only a freshman going into college. I was not thrilled with the idea of hiring someone so young, thinking he would be unable to integrate into our office. So after a full summer, Christian has taught me something about a book and its cover and all that. I now believe that it is not the age and often not even the experience that can make a successful internship. Instead, it is work ethic and a desire to become a useful member of the team.

Good luck at the University of Texas, Christian. (Go ‘Horns!)


Your colleagues at bloomfield knoble.