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The Importance of Internships: How to Maximize ROI for Students and Companies

three separators employees working on a centrifuge

Posted by: Quenton Lind on August 2, 2021 at 11:07 AM

Let’s set the scene: Your company is shorthanded and struggling to hire staff, high employee turnover may be a challenge, the job market is increasingly competitive, and experienced employees are costly. On the contrary, there are an estimated 300,000 interns in the U.S. annually. Interns are typically current students or recent graduates seeking hands-on experience within a professional setting. In many fields, having a degree is no longer enough to secure the all-important graduate job offer in today’s world. 

This is where synergy comes into play. Pertinent work experience can be just as valuable as a degree and exam results when it comes to building a successful career. For employers, the intern workforce can offer a steady stream of candidates who offer a wealth of talent, energy, and fresh ideas. 

At Separators, we believe that internships are an essential resource throughout our company—from engineering to sales and marketing. 

Michael Ferguson, marketing intern, Quenton Lind, vice president of sales and marketing, and James Anderson, vice president of operations, explain the opportunities and returns of the internship experience.    

1. Tell us about your education and core responsibilities as a marketing intern. 

Michael: I went to college at Indiana University, Kelley School of Business Indianapolis. For the first two years, I was also a part-time student at the Bloomington campus. During my time in college, I found my passion in business, especially in the area of marketing. In May 2021, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business (BSB) in marketing and a BSB in management. 

As graduation was approaching, I began to search for internships and full-time roles. I discovered Separators on LinkedIn and stumbled across a job posting for the marketing intern position. The job description grabbed my attention, and I decided to apply. After several interviews with Quenton, I received an offer, and I accepted without hesitation. 

My primary responsibility was to assist the marketing team with building an eCommerce store for parts inventory. A major aspect of the project was getting high-quality photographs of each part. Daily communications with Quenton helped to solidify my decision to pursue a marketing career path.

2. What was your experience working with Michael? 

Quenton: Michael built a photo staging area on day one, and he hasn’t looked back,” says Quenton. “His ability to stay on task with minimal oversight, while progressing through the project, has been greatly appreciated. The eCommerce project wouldn’t be where it is today without Michael.”

James: Michael had the challenge of having two direct reports in the eCommerce launch project: me on the operations side and Quenton from sales and marketing. Michael easily navigated who to go to for direction and also who he should “poke” when things were not moving along. From my perspective, he exceeded expectations and did a great job.

3. What are the greatest assets interns can bring to a company? 

James: I think the most honest thing you can do is tap into an intern’s experience and perspective. Ask them to evaluate and provide feedback on how the company operates. Ask, “Does the company seem to be primarily driven by a specific department? When issues arise, which department seems most/least receptive to feedback? Does the company seem to be driven by monthly targets, or does it seem to be more long-term driven? Do you observe issues? Who leads the charge?

Quenton: Interns bring fresh ideas, different perspectives, and up-to-date education. 

4. What lessons or insights did you gain from the internship experience? 

Michael: During my time working at Separators, I learned the value of open and transparent communication. Good communication is an important aspect of any companies’ success and efficiency, and I can tell quite clearly that Separators has a culture of open communication.

5. How do internships prepare students for their careers?

Quenton: It gets them out of academia and gives them a glimpse of the “real world.” Being able to be part of a team and seeing, and sometimes feeling, that connection in a work atmosphere is one of the greatest preparations for a career and life.

James: Even if an internship is not in the industry that you ultimately want to end up in, still consider it. I have worked in over seven industries, and I can apply lessons from every industry to my current role. Diverse experience will help companies succeed.

6. What advice do you have for companies looking to bring interns to their team?

James: Clearly articulate the deliverables of the project. Advise them on how to avoid scope creep, which is common when inexperienced professionals take on a project. We want to show them how to succeed, not how to fail.

Quenton: Make it valuable for the intern by having an outline of the work needed. There are always gaps that need to be filled or small projects that come up along the way—but having an outline is instrumental for both the company and the intern.

7. Any surprises you experienced along the way?

Michael: I was truly surprised by the cooperation that everyone had with me regarding my work situation. Even though I am a recent graduate and my ultimate goal is to find a full-time role, the team has been more than willing to cooperate with me. I completely understood the concern that I would find a job during the internship and leave. Thankfully, we were able to work out a mutual agreement that has ended up working out for both sides. Without the flexibility from the Separators team, this opportunity would not have been available for me. 

Maximize the Internship ROI

While internships can offer a plethora of rewards for early career professionals as well as companies, a structured program that includes position descriptions, reporting structures, deliverables, timelines, expected skills training, and communication expectations is critical for success. Local colleges and universities can offer assistance with these parameters and even partnerships in supervising interns. Over time, companies can determine the areas where interns can provide the most value and in turn, ensure the intern receives a resume-building experience. The upfront work to establish clear guidelines and expectations will help to ensure a maximum return on investment for all involved. 

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