For exhibit and event professionals  

Dilemma: I need some help with the help

July 2, 2012 By Editor

Summer’s here, and it’s time for the annual invasion of summer interns. Some are ready to learn and contribute, but others kill time, doing their nails, playing fantasy baseball online or texting their friends. What can I do with the unpaid summer help that doesn’t help at all?

— Faith, Marketing Manager

You need to get these interns in line

Faith, many interns may be in a summer frame of mind, where everything’s fun and games. But regardless of how they’ve spent summers past, it’s all about work this year, and it’s up to you to get them on board. Our readers say:

  • Take a more active role yourself.
  • Bring out the carrot, a small one.
  • Why choose between a carrot and a stick?

Take a more active role yourself

Fretting about what’s happened in the past only causes you more aggravation, so this time, step up and be the boss.

Ellen L. De Rosa, director of human resources at MC², tells you how to get these summer helpers off to a good start — and keep them on track.

“This situation calls for accountability and monitoring. Make sure your interns have specific assignments, understand them and must report back to you on their progress. Assigning a mentor to each intern may also help since it gives structure to your program. Reminding them they’ll be evaluated at the end of the internship can help as well.”

Bring out the carrot, a small one

Lots of people, not just interns, resent just getting a “thank you” after weeks of work, so some kind of reward may kick your helpers into gear.

Alison E. MacAvery, a human resources manager, provides low-cost suggestions to motivate your new group.

“The fact the internships are unpaid may contribute to the interns’ lack of enthusiasm and commitment. Perhaps you could offer some incentives, such as a small stipend, a free lunch once a week or an end-of-internship party. You don’t have to break the bank to keep from breaking your back doing their work — if you show your appreciation in some small way.”

Why choose between a carrot and a stick?

Rather than choosing between a hard-line and playing nice guy, a combination of the two might be your best choice.

Terrie Holahan, manager of tradeshows/events at AtriCure, Inc., explains how this could work.

“Without a monetary carrot, it can be hard to motivate someone who regards the internship as ‘someplace to go besides the pool.’ Start with a clear explanation of what the interns can and can’t do while on the clock. Tell them specifically what happens if they violate the rules, and when you see violations, call them on their behavior. Also, consider the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ approach, complete with a letter to the interns’ school or program. This isn’t professional conduct, and it should be reported.

“Keeping interns busy with engaging work is a challenge. I’m sure you have a list of daily responsibilities for your interns, but is there a larger project they can work on when their regular duties are done? Also, try pairing your slacker with an achiever.

“Does your company allow you to give out gift cards, such as a $10 iTunes card? If so, why not set up a competition between the interns? It may not be a large carrot, but it may provide some motivation. Good luck!”


  • Most kids become interns for college credits. I think Faith should tell her group that unless they complete their assignments to her satisfaction, she’ll have to report to their school(s) that they should receive incompletes for their internships. The prospect of having to work several more weeks at a different company — without pay — might be enough of a reason for them to shape up and get down to business.

    Have you had problems with interns? If so, how have you handled the situation?

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