Tips on how to ensure a mutually positive experience for interns and BRAC
Look around you, they are everywhere. Hovering over laptops, by the printers, near the photocopier, answering phone calls – you will see interns hanging around everywhere at BRAC, especially now that the summer is coming. If you are reading this, chances are, you are/were an intern at BRAC too!
These days internships have become more of a requirement than a mere volunteering activity. As young people are finding it more difficult each year to enter the job market based just on their academic credentials (how much of your college degree do you use anyway in your current job?) the experience of working as interns in top organisations is becoming invaluable. Being the first development organisation from the global south having an international presence and a strong field network, BRAC is one of the most popular choices for young people all over the world fancying a career in development.
The incoming interns, numbering more than 50 a year on an average, find themselves placed in different BRAC programmes with virtually unknown supervisors. Now what if you are that supervisor and you are the one who will be deciding how the next three months of your interns work life will be? The impact of that three month period can be longer lasting than you may think. You may become the fantastic supervisor we all want you to be and the intern would spread all the right kind of words about BRAC, becoming one BRAC’s unofficial youth ambassadors. Make him or her feel underutilised and unimportant, and their recollection of BRAC would almost certainly be negative.
Of all the post-internship feedback sessions I have had with my interns in the last couple of years, one issue came out as the most prominent one: feeling underutilised. Now some of the interns, maybe they didn’t have the quality to keep up and the supervisors just thought: “What the heck, he is an intern. Send him to a couple of field visits and it should be over soon.” But other than a few isolated cases, what I believe the most obvious reason behind this is lack of planning and thought before an intern arrives. Most of the time, the internships are confirmed months ahead and the supervisor and the intern are connected by the internship coordinator (yours truly). If the supervisor takes the time to at least chalk out a rough plan on where s/he wants to use the intern and what areas would match the skills of the intern then a lot of back and forth can be saved at the beginning of an internship where no one has any clue what to do next. If the supervisor is not notified beforehand then something can always be agreed upon by both parties based on the impending needs and the intern’s strengths.
If we look at the other side, the supervisors most frequently complain about the professionalism of the intern and his/her seriousness about the work. In clearer terms, interns get bored easily and don’t want to maintain office decorum sometimes. My suggestion towards the supervisors would be to treat the interns like they would someone in their team. Give them the respect they deserve, draw clear lines of accountability and trust them with heavier projects if they show interest. They are here to gain professional experience so if you push them to perform beyond their comfort zone then nine times out of ten, they will relish the opportunity. Besides, a good manager is a good manager; if you are good in managing your team, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to manage an intern. There are obvious language barriers most of the time but that can be handled easily if you let someone younger in your team act as a point person for the intern.
A fresh batch of summer interns is coming soon. Just a piece of advice for those who will be managing them: they are here to help and contribute, it’s up to you to ensure that their work adds value.
Rakib Avi is a deputy manager with the BRAC Communications Department.