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Thread: How to train your intern(s) thread

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    How to train your intern(s) thread

    I figured I would start a thread so that a) students or other seeking internship opportunities kinda get a sense of expectations when they do land an internship and b) a place for us professionals providing internship opportunities to sort of springboard and share management styles and tips to mold that intern into a somewhat functioning planner for the future.

    I have found over the past summer the lack of attention to detail is something seriously missing on students. Case in point. I directed our newest intern to write our breif staff report for our design review committee. I directed him to follow this template. He asked at the end of the day if i wanted to review it, and i said, "no, just print out a copy for me when your done, so I can review in one fellow swoop".

    Now in college, I would at least proof read what i wrote and made sure the "stupid" things were covered.

    Attention to detail.

    Which means, review what you got before you send it off. Maybe I am being t0o rough, but I made it quite clear during our first sit down and project introduction that a) we produce professional quality work, so staff reports and other items that "leave" the office or to be reviewed by the public needs to be professionally polished. and that b) take no shortcuts. If it takes longer to do something and it will look polished, than do it. This isn't a timed exercise here, but rather, short, concise, and most of all professional report needs to be produced.

    What I got was sorely lacking. Names and Dates were not changed on headers and footers, Project name wasn't included, inconsistent fonts and just the repetitive information (which i understand), but again, it was the little things

    Again, attention to detail.

    So, how do you go about telling someone, pay attention to the details?
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Think a lot of that is just learned through experience. Obviously some people pay much more attention to details than others though.

    Where I interned, the previous intern was not hired permanently because she was working with GIS data without having a backup. She of course messed up the data so that it was no longer usable. It seems like common sense to me that you always backup the original data but it somehow didn't occur to her.

    Granted there was very little oversight at this particular place but that's beside the point.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    So, how do you go about telling someone, pay attention to the details?

    By giving them an assignment, then showing them everything they did wrong. Keep on doing it until the draft work products you receive generate nearly no substantive comments. Don't ever fix something for them without at least showing them what was wrong.

    Also, rolled up newspaper on the nose works too
    In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move. (Douglas Adams)

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Once a workschedule is created, follow it. We had an intern miss three weeks and gave the excuse that he was at a wedding in a rural part of the country with limited phone or email. He also failed to mention this when we interviewed him and talked about days he would work and when midterms were so he could study. We did not fail to inform him that his services are no longer required.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  5. #5
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tarf View post
    By giving them an assignment, then showing them everything they did wrong. Keep on doing it until the draft work products you receive generate nearly no substantive comments.
    It would be most excellent to have all that extra time to spare to train an intern. Your boss offloaded a project to free up your time, right? Right?

  6. #6
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    I agree... I have found that interns are not eager enough to learn. I guess maybe that is just an expectation I have for them, but really you need to want to learn to fully "get" it.

    I think that to really get the most out of an experience like an internship, you need to be actively involved in any aspect that you can. Ask to go to meetings, conference calls, or other things that interest you. Suggest things that you could do to organize, optimize, or remove from the planning process.

    I know it is really cliche, but you get what you put in. I think my take away for a prospective intern is:

    Be active. Be engaged. Be available.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  7. #7
    Cyburbian azmodela's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tarf View post
    By giving them an assignment, then showing them everything they did wrong.
    Rather than show them everything they did wrong, why not offer encouragement with some sort of positive reinforcement? Now I'm not saying everyone who participates deserves a trophy, but showing them everything they did wrong doesn't do much for one's level of confidence.

  8. #8
    I didn't really instruct our planning intern to do anything. She pretty much figured it out on her own.

  9. #9
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by landscape-planner View post
    I didn't really instruct our planning intern to do anything. She pretty much figured it out on her own.
    You got a good one then. Unless they are seasoned, many interns need massaging. I think it is expected that you will need to provide some guidance... the question is how much. I think the goal of this thread is to give some tips for Interns to follow to be sure they are providing the service requested and getting the most from their experience.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Hink View post
    many interns need massaging.

    Well no wonder your interns are lazy if you're giving them all massages at work! :P
    In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move. (Douglas Adams)

  11. #11
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tarf View post
    Well no wonder your interns are lazy if you're giving them all massages at work! :P
    That's how we get away without paying them...
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Where I interned, the planning staff was so busy putting out fires that larger scale projects were never worked on. I was brought on to help with those larger projects that never materialized. As a result I was primarily doing busy work which often wasn't sufficient to fill my time. Realistically there was only so much I could do around the office since I wasn't able to handle the fires that constantly popped up. I was essentially treated as a planning tech which was a decent learning experience but I didn't get as much first hand experience as I would have liked.

  13. #13
    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    I worked as an intern for a probate court because the needed my budgeting and proposal drafting expertise. The first day I met with the department manager I received her "Details, Details, Details" speech. It's stuck with me ever since then.

    Essentially she broke it down that because it was a court that there was a proper process and procedure to follow for nearly everything that happened in that office whether I was involved in it or not. Never be afraid to ask questions, nobody ever gets it right the first time, and when you don't take care of the details the devil comes out to play.

    Other practicalities:
    Agree on a schedule, ask about exams, travel plans, etc.
    Be specific on giving directions for particular assignments and give a deadline.
    Be specific when asking questions: How's it going? vs. How far have you gotten on reviewing section X of comp plan Z?
    Allow time for review and critique of work, this was the biggest gift the planning director I interned for gave me.
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

  14. #14
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    My interns are typically here for a single semester. Here are few things I always do with my interns (keeping mind that I've made my living in cities at or under 50,000):
    • Ask about schedule, time availability, vacations & exams during the interview. Try to be flexible--they are still students.
    • During the semester, each intern will take one case of every variety (plat, variance, zoning change, etc.) through the approval process start-to-finish, including preparation of the staff report and presenting to the required board & city council. I always introduce the item to the board/council and let them know that the intern did it, and turn it over to the intern to make the full presentation. This usually occurs toward the end of the semester when I've had some time to polish them.
    • The intern is included in all possible meetings, and I usually have them keep meeting notes. Depending on the specific situation, I'll encourage them to ask questions during the meeting or have them hold questions until after we're done.
    • The intern is always assigned at least one policy-related 'bigger project' each semester, whether it is some kind of ordinance amendment, long-range planning project, or similar item.
    • Have them work the phones & front desk on a somewhat regular basis. It gets them used to dealing with the public and helps them learn how to find answers. Make sure they're supervised though when it comes to giving answers.
    • Have them talk about issues in staff meetings with everyone else.
    • Give a lot of written assignments. I have found technical writing to be a profound weakness in nearly all interns. They tend to write in an academic, rather than professional style, and like others have said they are often not detail-oriented. I redline and give back their work, never correcting it for them. After you bleed a few times on their assignments, they get it. By that same token, I always give some form of positive feedback on everything they do.
    • I set aside 'intern hour' every week on Friday where they can come in and ask literally anything. They can come in other times as well, but they know this time is guaranteed.
    • Pass your intern over to a couple of other departments for a day so they can get exposure to how they work and how planning interacts with them. I recommend engineering, public works, finance and administration. Those departments do the same thing with me: giving me their intern for a day. Not all cities have this kind of relationship between departments though.
    • Include them in happy hour. Especially because they can usually get everyone drinks under student specials.
    • Basically, just invest time in your interns.

    Worth mentioning: make friends with the university internship program and make sure your interns have a very informative experience. Interns report back to their university programs, and university intern programs tend to put their best & brightest in situations where they know they'll have a good internship experience.

    I've had generally good experiences with interns over the years, with only a couple of duds (oddly, from the same very large university). In each case, they kind of freaked-out when they discovered that planners don't change the world on a daily basis and that you can't just cram good/cutting edge planning practice down people's throats regardless of what codes say. I also had an intern show up stoned on his first (and last) day of the internship.

    EDIT: I feel like this should be mentioned in relation to internship programs:

    Quote Originally posted by AICP Code of Ethics
    3. Our Responsibility to Our Profession and Colleagues

    We shall contribute to the development of, and respect for, our profession by improving knowledge and techniques, making work relevant to solutions of community problems, and increasing public understanding of planning activities.

    a) We shall protect and enhance the integrity of our profession.

    b) We shall educate the public about planning issues and their relevance to our everyday lives.

    c) We shall describe and comment on the work and views of other professionals in a fair and professional manner.

    d) We shall share the results of experience and research that contribute to the body of planning knowledge.

    e) We shall examine the applicability of planning theories, methods, research and practice and standards to the facts and analysis of each particular situation and shall not accept the applicability of a customary solution without first establishing its appropriateness to the situation.

    f) We shall contribute time and resources to the professional development of students, interns, beginning professionals, and other colleagues.

    g) We shall increase the opportunities for members of underrepresented groups to become professional planners and help them advance in the profession.

    h) We shall continue to enhance our professional education and training.

    i) We shall systematically and critically analyze ethical issues in the practice of planning.

    j) We shall contribute time and effort to groups lacking in adequate planning resources and to voluntary professional activities.
    Last edited by Suburb Repairman; 18 Oct 2011 at 3:18 PM.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Great points SR! It seems like you have a wonderful intern program set up. This is the first go around where I have interviewed and selected our candidates. I find that the unpaid interns have so far been just okay versus when we were paying them.

    I like the project. Right now and I have one working on a CUP to which they will do everything from start to finish with my guidance.

    Like I said, I want this to be a great tips page. Students, please ask questions of us and Hink brings up a good point, you get what you put in
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    you get what you put in
    Six planning-related internships and no one taught me squat. It was cheap labor and I just figured it out myself.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  17. #17
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    Six planning-related internships and no one taught me squat. It was cheap labor and I just figured it out myself.
    There's something to be said for being in a planning environment but yeah, a lot of internships are basically that. My intern position was justified because of the poor line of communication between the GIS and planning departments. It was easier to keep an intern around to do GIS work than try to get the GIS department to do it.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    My advice is, listen to what they have to say and suggest. Some interns are very very bright.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian natski's avatar
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    I was a paid intern in 2004- i have to say i was very fortunate that i had a fabulous boss and team. They must of thought i was ok too as i was offered work after my internship finished. I can offer a few bits and pieces of advice ..

    1. You have to be willing to work- the interns that get in and work hard get noticed by people. Your worth ethic is important.

    2. Always look for work- don't expect it to be dropped into your lap. Ok your boss will give you a project, but if you finish that quick and have time to do more, ask people for more work or create projects. Your seniors will always be super busy and may not know exactly how much work you have to do- so if you have spare time, ask for work!

    3. Listen! You will get so much knowledge just from listening to your collegues- how they approach issues, how the politics work in a place, how to speak to the public, Planning law etc etc.

    4. You aren't expected to know everything (i think kj said it too) don't pretend to know if you don't. Your an intern for a reason. Ask questions- people around you will help and also will know your thinking about the job your doing.

    5. Attention to detail. Spelling matters. Creating a letter in the right format matters. Getting the right signatures on a form and getting them in on time matters. Everything matters- so pay attention to the details. Your manager would rather you take a little extra time in making things right, instead of them correcting you multiple times- and eventually giving up on you cause it would be easier for them to do it themselves.

    6. Get to know people in the office- it may take a while, but its so much easier to ask the engineers etc etc questions when they know you and have a good office relationship.

    7. Don't think you will know everything about planning before you intern- use it as a learning experience, not a forum to change the world- cause you wont.

    8. Mentor- i was lucky and found my seniors were fabulous mentors and taught me a lot. People are more than happy to help when they know you will listen and learn.


    The biggest thing for me as an intern was that my boss gave me individual projects to work on that i could make my own, with their guidance of course. Interns actually feel like they can contribute when given their own project to lead. An interns should use the privilege of running a project to prove that they are capable. I was lucky my boss saw that in my and had me project managing large studies before i finished university.
    "Have you ever wondered if there was more to life, other than being really, really, ridiculously good looking?" Zoolander

  20. #20
    Cyburbian
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    Here's my few points drawing on my experience from being an intern and from supervising them:

    - Get involved. The staff may not have the time or inclination to make sure your learning experience is a valuable one. If you don't feel like your time is being used wisely or you feel like you're left out of things, take the initiative to start asking questions and find out where you can participate.
    - Don't get cocky. More than once I've seen interns who have recently learned about a particular topic and therefore think they know more about it than the professionals. If you think you have some information that the staff doesn't, be respectful of their experience and knowledge when offering your input.
    - Use your work to help you in class. As long as your boss is OK with it, write papers about what you're doing and use your experience to inform your school work. Think of the office as a library that your fellow students don't have access to. It can make your life much, much easier if you can base your thesis on your internship.
    - Network, network, network. This is your chance to score a job before you graduate, and it might not be at the place you have your internship. Meet as many people as you can and do what you can to make an impression on them. Offer to be the point of contact for projects. Simply setting up meetings and taking phone calls can help you get your name out there and people might start to remember who you are. Plus it takes some burden off of your supervisors.
    - Avoid office politics. It's never happened to me or any of my interns, but I've seen some very nasty situations where interns got caught up in long-standing conflicts between staff members. Do everything you can to stay out of office politics, and if you can't then get advice from your adviser at school.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    A quick note: you would be surprised how many people do not know how to edit areas of a document that are not standard text in Word. I find that I need to help coworkers (older and younger) learn things like editing headers, footers, table margins, etc.

    As for training interns, I try to not train them by way of baptism by fire, which is how I feel I was trained.

    Tips for those in internships or applying for them:
    1. As Raf mentioned, attention to detail is crucial in an internship setting. You are doing work that is now paying your salary, you coworkers salaries, and enabling the firm/department to continue to receive funding, so make it as close to perfect as you can.
    2. Do not get discouraged if you are bored. Working can be boring. If you do not have enough to do, go around the office and ask each employee if they have anything you can help them with. People will appreciate your initiative and you will likely get a lot more work in the future as a result as other employees feel more comfortable depending on you.
    3. Try to make a few good connections while you are there. Develop relationships. These are the people that will provide you with a professional reference in the future, or might write a letter of recommendation for furthering your education.

    Smile, bring doughnuts (just kidding), and do your best.
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