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Your Summer Interns - Tips on Managing Them, For Political Staffers

Your Summer Interns - Tips on Managing Them, For Political Staffers

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It isn't always easy to integrate summer interns into a political office's regular routines. This short document provides a list of tips on how to do this, so that both the interns and the office come out ahead.
It isn't always easy to integrate summer interns into a political office's regular routines. This short document provides a list of tips on how to do this, so that both the interns and the office come out ahead.

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Published by: Home of the Political Staffer's Bookshelf on Jan 09, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Compiled by: Cincinnatus
Summer Interns! Depending on how organized you are as a political staffer, your internscan either be (a) a great benefit to your minister’s office/Member of Parliament’s officeor (b) a source of constant headaches for you, as they wander around unsupervised andwith little real work to do.In general, there are five good rules to keep in mind with your interns:
1. Give them meaningful work.2. Respect their strengths and weaknesses.3. Remember that there is a learning curve –have patience if the initial draft lettersthey produce aren’t written well, etc.4. Be a mentor.5. Encourage your interns to ask questions – the more they understand about thecontext of their work, the better.
And above all, keep this in mind: Interns
are not
just cheap labour. Your summer internsrepresent an opportunity to train the next generation of staffers/political operatives. And,this being politics, they could even become your colleagues in a year or two.(Granted, some of them already think they can do your job better than you can, but that is just part of being young, I suppose.)Let’s get to some specific tips:1. Assign interns tasks to which young people are naturally well-suited. For example, if an intern in a Member of Parliament’s Hill office could start up a Twitter account for theMP and teach the MP how to use it. Or the intern could create a Facebook fan page andstart to populate it with fans. Or design a new website in Wordpress.If they’re not tech savvy, think about getting your interns to help with event planning or logistics – a simple but important skill they may have picked up in high school throughtheir or university extracurricular activities.2. Variety is the spice of life: If at all possible, cycle your interns through various roles inyour office. They may discover a new task that they are good at, or (gasp!) actuallyenjoy.3. Create incentives for your interns – for example, talk about your willingness to be areference for them when they begin searching for full-time jobs, and how this iscontingent on the quality of their work.1
4. If at all possible, avoid using interns for coffee runs or other menial tasks. Whenindividuals really have proven themselves to be ineffective, however, and you have noother choice, you may ignore this tip.5. If you can afford it, wine and dine interns a couple of times to show your gratitude for their hard work. They will appreciate the gesture, especially since they are (a) most likely poor students and (b) most likely being paid peanuts.7. Depending on the work you assign your interns, you may need to talk with your officemanager, chief of staff, etc., about setting aside some money, taxi chits, and other resources into a formal intern expenses budget.
Be especially careful about the taxi chits. Some interns may use up chitswith alarming speed, so talk with your office manager regularly to see if you have toimpose strict controls. Ditto for photocopy cards, if, for example, you’re sending them toa university library to do some research.8. Take your interns to meet other MPs/MPPs/ministers/parliamentary secretaries/etc.Deep down, interns enjoy being able to talk with friends back home about the important public figures they met in Ottawa. You could also reward great work by taking your interns out for lunch with some of your caucus colleagues, for instance. It may be another day at the office to you, but it will mean a lot to a 20-year-old student.9. If you are working in a minister’s office, consider asking your communicationsdirector or policy advisor to let the interns sit in on routine meetings with the department.Your interns may find it interesting to observe how political staff work with civil servantsto advance the government’s agenda.10. All government departments and agencies occasional host talks by academics, or holdsmall internal conferences or seminars. See if your interns can attend some of theseevents, to learn more about the department’s operations, current issues, etc.11. Make sure your interns get a well-rounded Ottawa political experience and give thema ‘day off’ to go drop literature, door knock, canvass in your MP’s/minister’s riding, andso on. If the riding is far from Ottawa (or Toronto, in the case of Queen’s Park) consider donating some of your air miles to allow the intern to go meet the constituency officeteam and take part in a local corn roast, etc.You may be surprised at how including them in these events can sometimes encourage anintern to feel included, and perhaps even return/stick around for the next summer.12. Covering for vacationing full-timers: yes, this idea will ruffle some of your colleagues’ feathers. Fact is, with some gentle direction, an intern can make a fine officereceptionist for two weeks per year while your full time staff are on vacation. Simply setsome boundaries so as not to get yourself in trouble with the public or your full-time staff - for instance, ‘no case work,’ ‘administrative calls only,’ etc.2

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