It started out like a regular day in the office: crazy busy and the phone was ringing off the hook. After the usual morning briefing, everyone had their marching orders and we broke out into different directions tackling the priorities at hand.
At one point, on random restroom break, my intern happened to say those five words that every manager has to hear once in while: “Can we talk for a minute?”
“Sure,” I replied and we walked into our office business lounge, a small private suite with soft leather chairs and dim lighting. Perfect for courting new clients and having private conversations with your employees. When you are self-employed, you wear many hats, this time I had to wear my Human Resources hat.
Sheepishly, but with direct eye contact he says, “I’m going to be leaving soon, in fact, the 20th is my last day. I've accepted a full-time position as a Jr. Art Director." The day had finally come, my intern had found a full-time job at a larger agency and he was leaving my firm. He was noticeably very nervous, not sure how I would react, and whether or not the timing was right. Dealing with an intern comes with a heavy burden of responsibility. I’m basically his first boss, his first encounter with real-world structure since graduating college. How I handled this (and every other situation with him) would have a long-lasting effect on who he will develop into as a professional.
My reaction was one of a typical proud parent: holding back the emotions (and the selfishness) while expressing how proud and happy I was for him. Turns out the firm that he is leaving to is a client of my firm, a larger agency in lower Fairfield County whom we've done contract work for. A reputable place, and not one that is easy to get into. I was noticably proud and knew that the portfolio of work we had helped him develop and brands we had worked on also helped him secure this new position. I name-dropped a few people that I know still work at his new firm and wished him the best. The time had come for him to fly the coop.
It’s always scary to try something new, or leave the familiar for the unfamiliar. I gave him a lot of credit for taking the plunge and accepting the position, which was full-time as opposed to what I could offer him. I remember the butterflies you get walking into a new office full of strangers, with every fiber in you determined to do your best work, careful not to make any mistakes. This became yet another opportunity to mentor. I was able to mentor him even as he was giving me his ‘2 week’s notice’.
What is a mentor?
According to L. Rose Hollister, “A mentor affects the professional life of a protege by fostering insight, identifying needed knowledge, and expanding growth opportunities. This assistance supplements the coaching an individual already receives from his or her supervisor. Traditionally, the mentoring relationship consists of an experienced executive providing guidance and advice to an associate with less experience. The associate is looking to move up the career ladder, usually by learning from someone who is successful and well respected.”
Flying the Coop
Will I miss him? Of course. But only when I think selfishly. When I think of the time it took for him to learn ‘our system’, or how I will have to (at least temporarily) handle the long active project matrix, or how we’ll have to get our own lunches every Wednesday, then yes I do miss him and feel a sense of loss. Wing night out with the printer and the team will also be missing one of the guys. Yes, it is bittersweet, but only when I think selfishly. If I think of the intern, of what the original plan was all about, then I’m actually happy for him. I actually feel like I did my part to make the world a beter place. When he first arrived, he was very shy what made things easier was that he took criticism well and had a good attitude. That made up for the time it often took to get tasks completed. He reminded me to be patient and to be a better teacher. I knew that the plan was to mentor him and prepare him for a full time job in the design field. I let him listen in on client calls, he took creative direction and yes, he often did grunt work. But that is all a part of earning your stripes in the business. He had some good times and wasn’t treated any differently from anyone else. He joined the company for a Holiday Dinner with one of our largest clients and learned how to carry conversation with total strangers which in itself is a lost art.
I encourage every small business owner or entrepreneur to give a young college graduate the opportunity to intern. Let them learn first hand how to be professional, how to meet deadlines, how to speak with clients and how to close deals. There’s so much more to survival than what they teach you in college. Teach them to work hard, but to have fun and that yes, its possible to do both. In exchange, you’ll be able to staff up your firm, and take some of the load off of your desk at a good price point. I told him from day one that because of his skill level, the internship would be a paid one. I promised him that I wouldn’t exploit his talents and that I’d try and throw as many creative projects his was as possible so that he could display his creativity while under my watch.
Now its time for him to fly. I’m sure he will do well, and I look forward to bringing a new intern on board, and helping them to get on their feet professionally and provide that guidance that our young people need. Its my way of giving back, and it comes in handy when you need someone to run out and pick up lunch for the crew!
The Benefits of a Being a Mentor
The Benefits of a Graphic Design Internship:
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