9 Ways to Engage Summer Interns – and Identify Great Talent

Ah, the signs of spring . . . the sound of birds and frogs coming out to play, warmer temperatures and sudden breezes, pollen coating everything . . . and the influx of bright, eager interns to our offices.

At Padilla, the summer intern cycle is a highly anticipated and important part of the year. Yes, we love the extra help they provide. And yes, we love the amplified energy, sense of excitement and new ideas they bring to our teams. But we also see our interns as a great way to identify top talent – either at the completion of their internship or down the road.

Of our 240+ employees, approximately 15 percent started as interns. Of that group, 65 percent have been with the agency for more than five years. That’s an impressive stat, especially during this era of serial job-hopping.


Designing an internship program to identify top talent for your company requires thought and planning.

I asked our former interns, whose tenure with Padilla ranges from less than a year to 23 years, what they appreciated most about their internship at the agency. Based on their responses, here are tips to consider for creating an internship program that is meaningful for your interns and beneficial for your company.

  1. Set the stage. The first week or two of an internship should be all about learning: about the company, its mission and vision, its ways of working, and the profession overall. At our AC (Account Coordinator) Bootcamp, our interns participate in training sessions, hear from different teams across the agency and get to know each other as a peer group. This sets interns up for success because they learn the basics up front.
  1. Feed their curiosity. Offer interns opportunities to learn about the different facets of the communications industry, so they can identify where their interests lie and their skills are strongest. And, if you have interns who want to learn more about a specific area, let them sit in on meetings or participate in other ways, even if there isn’t a specific assignment opportunity. This helps them to see the big picture of the communications industry and its many options.
  1. Put them to work. Yes, sometimes we ask interns to do routine or mindless work – but it’s important to provide them with meaningful work to do right away. Asking an intern to draft a news release, create intranet content or complete another project on day one demonstrates that you see them as an important part of your team.
  1. Ask their opinion. One of the most valuable things interns bring to the table is fresh perspectives and insights. Invite interns to brainstorming sessions, assign them to committees and encourage them to bring bold ideas and creative thinking to the table. Letting them know their ideas are welcome is all most need to come up with some truly innovative thinking.
  1. Illustrate the big picture. While interns often work on a specific piece of a project, take the time to walk them through how their work fits into the bigger picture. Understanding how the work they are doing helps a client meet his goals or contributes to the company’s success helps interns to see how their work adds value.
  1. Harness their energy. Most interns are eager and willing to do just about anything to learn more. Take advantage of that energy by identifying experiential opportunities for them: participating in a crisis drill, testing a website before launch, handing out tchotchkes at an event. It’s another chance to learn about the many aspects of the industry – and their enthusiasm is catching for the rest of your team.
  1. Draft them to a team. If possible, assign each intern to at least one ongoing account or project team. This helps them to understand the entire project lifecycle, from planning to evaluation, as well as the important aspects of providing exceptional client service. Observing other team members as they work is a great learning tool and illustrates how the pieces of our profession fit together.
    Happy and successful team of colleagues sitting together to work out business plans
  1. Teach the business. In the agency world, new business development is part of everyone’s job. At Padilla, interns are no exception. Pull interns into the new business process. They’re a great resource for research, new ideas and sometimes even connections. More importantly, it demonstrates one of the primary goals of almost every business: future growth and sustainability.
  1. Don’t dump. Yes, we all do work that we don’t especially enjoy or find fulfilling. And yes, interns are expected to help with whatever is needed. But please: look for opportunities to involve interns in the interesting work as well as the mundane. Treat them as a valuable part of your team, not just a lackey. Trust me – word will get around either way.

I’m thankful each day for my amazing, talented colleagues who started as Padilla interns. We may have provided the opportunity – but they took that opportunity and ran with it.

Share: what are your best internship memories?

Still looking for an internship? Check out our tips to landing the perfect summer internship.

Thanks to my colleagues for sharing their internship experiences: Sam Cox, Amy Fisher, Blake Mirzayan, Catie Frech, Emily Valentine, Heidi Wight, Jennifer Lucado, Kathryn Canning, Katie McCombie, Kenny Devine, Melissa Mowery and Molly O’Mara.

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