Interns: Developing staff you WANT to work with...forever.

In support of Burwell Consultants, William M. Burwell writes articles sharing his experience in four keystone practice areas: Design; Marketing, Firm Management and Project Management.  Check him out at 

Project Management Post 3.1

Working with interns and young staff should be a two-way street.  Sure, the young kids take on the arduous tasks of documentation and production, after all they're a whiz on the machines.  But how are they developing their intra-personal and verbal skills, especially with consultants, contractors and clients?  A good start is to let them join you at project meetings.  Not necessarily to lead, but to learn.  Hearing the way meetings are managed, listening to the compromise of conflict resolution, learning how office performance and accuracy can effect field performance....these experiences will become embedded in their intern psyche.  Here's why it works for employee and employer:

  • The intern's job is to work for several firms in several positions, doing a variety of work, in order to build their practical experience and to begin to formulate where they will fit in a firm and how their career will develop.  

  • The employer's job is to introduce the intern to the profession, engage them in meaningful work provide them the insights they will need to make decisions, become an asset to the firm and make good career choices.

Their exposure to the business of practicing architecture is a teaching moment.  Giving them a speaking role initially such as updating submittal status, or addressing document revisions provides them a voice on the job.  We all learn so much faster by doing and being engaged.  This engagement is also what creates "buy-in" so that the office project becomes the interns project.  Now they are really engaged. 

As important, when possible, take the intern with you in your car so that ahead of meetings you can align expectations and on the way back you can debrief on their understand of what just happened.  Ask them to DRAFT the meeting notes using the office standard format.  Knowing this in advance, they will become better note takers.  Review their notes and illustrate to them how "he who writes the notes, rules the meeting".  It's important that the "what" of the meeting is always paired with the "why" of the meeting.  This allows the intern to gain depth and insight into activities.  Train the intern in spotting additional service requests and to bring any to you for judgment on inclusion or notation.  Illustrate your discussion with examples to teach the pitfalls and triumphs of prior projects.

Whether or not this intern stays with the firm or moves on, you have had a role in developing a great well rounded professional.  If you treated them well they may indeed stay, and in my career I experienced several interns leaving only to return after a few years, as terrific management or principal material.  Very rewarding indeed.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began a Small Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years.   He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence.