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On the Merits of Interns (and how to care for them)

Canfei Nesharim is seeking a spring intern. You can see the posting here: http://jewcology.jobthread.com/job/intern-silver-spring-md-canfei-nesharim-bb3ee9fa9a/.

While the process of acquiring, training and utilizing an intern can be a challenge, I'm a huge fan of interns. Perhaps that's because of the number of successful intern and fellowship experiences I had in my early career. As an unpaid intern I had the opportunity to edit books, as a lowly fellow I had the opportunity to lobby on Capitol Hill, and later on as a paid intern at EPA I had the opportunity to go to San Francisco to work with tribes and to Tblisi, Georgia to work on environmental issues there. So my own intern experiences taught me how much you can learn by giving a bit of yourself.

But I’m also a fan of interns because of the number of amazing young people who have worked with me over the years. I’ve had interns help me build a website, successfully create videos and podcasts, write articles, create perks for fundraisers, and generally keep our shoestring organization running when staff was short. Although we now have a little more staff capacity, I continue to seek interns because they bring new energy and ideas into Canfei Nesharim’s work, and of course, they do a lot of work which makes a difference!

Here are some things that I’ve learned from successfully working with interns over the last ten years.

The interview: When I interview interns, I trust my instincts. I’m more interested in enthusiasm, integrity and solid communications skills than I am in specific knowledge or experience. Specific skills and knowledge can be taught, but the intern I want is the one who is committed to making a difference and willing to put the time and energy into that. Several times I have taken a chance on young people who have not had any relevant experiences, and found them to be the most effective interns in my team.

Starting off right: When I start working with a new intern, my first goal is always to find out their interests and skills. The worst thing is a poor match between an intern’s skills and the projects they are assigned. While sometimes everyone has to do work that they dislike, I feel that interns should only have projects that they are at least theoretically interested in. If they are giving me their time for free, they should receive the experience and opportunity to work on something that helps strengthen their own skills and knowledge. I express this up front with the intern when we start working together, so that they know I have their interests in mind as well as my own. This helps us build a meaningful working partnership.

Professional expectations: Interns don’t always know what they will be able to do and what they won’t. So I also give interns a gradual progression of tasks, as I learn what they are good at and what they enjoy. Everyone knows it’s a bad idea to assign an intern a critical and time-sensitive project if they may not succeed at it. However, certain young people will really rise to the occasion with a deadline and a high-stakes situation. As I get to know my interns better, I adjust my expectations and the level of work that they receive. One important learning experience for an intern can be what they don’t like and what they aren’t good at.

Staff management: Interns typically require more management and hand-holding than more experienced staff. For that reason, I’ve learned to set aside specific times for check-in meetings, not just on work but to reflect on the general direction of the internship: what they are learning, what they are enjoying, and what they’d like to do more or less of (if possible). Many of my interns have worked from a distance, and this is especially important for them.

Gratitude: The most important thing I’ve learned about working with interns is to thank them. If an intern is going to give me their time and energy for a semester or a summer, they deserve a lot of gratitude. This is true especially if there are producing meaningful and helpful work! The most important way to thank an intern, of course, is in the reference that they receive at the end of the experience. If they have done good work, I’m fully expressive about that in my reference. Gaining a meaningful reference is one of the most important things an intern can get out of an experience, and I take that responsibility as seriously as I’d like them to take the internship.

By giving interns positive experiences, I’ve build a network of young people who have helped Canfei Nesharim and Jewcology thrive over the years. These young people are likely to refer others to our work and, hopefully, speak well of us in their communities. I consider internships incredibly important to a successful movement and I’m glad that the Jewish environmental movement offers so many of these types of opportunities!

To browse open Jewish environmental job opportunities, visit jewcology.jobthread.com. To apply for Canfei Nesharim’s spring internship, see http://jewcology.jobthread.com/job/intern-silver-spring-md-canfei-nesharim-bb3ee9fa9a/!

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1 Comment
1 Reply
  • Yonatan Neril
    January 28, 2013 (8:05 am)

    Thanks, Evonne! It is helpful to hear you share about your experience and advise in working with interns.


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