The VALUE of INTERNS as the FUTURE LEADERS of our INDUSTRY
"WE WANT TO BE TREATED AND VALUED JUST LIKE ALL THE OTHER EMPLOYEES"
Something like 15 years ago, I had just gotten my master degree, and it was time for me to choose my internship.
I was lucky enough to be recruited by the Sales & Marketing regional office of Orient Express Hotels and Resort - now Belmond, and to work with Mr Andrea Filippi - Vice President of Global Sales - probably one of the biggest names in the industry I had the honor to work for.
During the internship I asked for - and was given - the opportunity to work directly at one of the company properties: the stunning Hotel Splendido Portofino, describable only as one of a kind.
There I switched from Sales & Marketing to Food & Beverage, and I enjoyed the opportunity to be part of the operations team very much. My time at the Splendido was short, but with no doubt one of the best experiences in my career. You might think “How could it be one of your best experiences? It was an internship…”. And yet I have nothing but great memories of that summer, and of how I felt being part of that exclusive and extraordinary team.
Even though quite some time has gone by, I remember that experience very well. I have the feeling for some reason we all remember our internship… At that stage, we look at it as our first job, we are scared to get into the adult world and to have an important role in a company, but we are also excited to walk into that phase of our life.
Why am I talking about internships all of a sudden?
Because one of the components of my job I enjoy the most is mentoring younger professionals, and I have had the luck of having some really fantastic trainees in the last few years. I have been thinking a lot about them and about young people trying to get in the industry in 2020. I have been thinking about the fact that this year all internships were cut in the beginning or half way through, and that students won’t get the opportunity they were so excited for. I have been thinking about all the new hoteliers, who are the ones we need to invest in and trust to carry on the future of hospitality.
We have all been on both sides: we have been the intern and we have been the tutor.
We have been in situations where our boss didn’t value us as interns and looked at us as the ones who should do the dirty work whenever needed. Sometimes that boss was someone else, and sometimes it was us. We have been in situations where we felt used and exploited; but we have also been in situations where we felt properly guided and developed.
When I was on the other side, I realized that the importance and value people would give to my work as an intern, would very much depend on how I was going to do it.
Internships are valuable for the growth of the students who do it, but are also beneficial for the culture of an organization. I would love to make people more sensitive towards the role of a trainee - but I also would love to help trainees be more aware of their own position, and the way they can approach it to be more impactful in the organization.
I have asked some of my former trainees to share their thoughts on what they look for when they apply for an internship: what do they expect from the company, what are their goals and needs, what do they want or not want from their tutor?
Let’s hear from them.
Britt Willems from the Netherlands - student at Hotel Management School Maastricht, Netherlands.
“I went into my internship with quite a few expectations. The first few weeks were very daunting: I moved to a country that I had never even been to, I had to arrange all documents and moving parts to be able to live there, and learning about my new workplace and the people there also took a lot of effort. Something we hope to receive as students is a lot of help and guidance, especially when we arrive, and during the first weeks. My internship tutor gave me a lot of support on how to get settled in the new city and country, for example on how to get a social security number or where to find a place, which was very appreciated.
Once we get settled in, we actually want less guidance and more responsibility. For many of us, including me, an internship is the first real management experience we get in the hospitality industry. After a few weeks of shadowing and training, I was asked to run supervisor shifts by myself. At first I was quite nervous of being ‘’thrown into the deep’’, however this system worked really well in the end. It was a big accomplishment for me, and I felt proud that my colleagues trusted me enough to do this alone.
Since the internship is still a part of our education, we expect our tutors to create a development plan with us, or at least to get their feedback on it. This way we have straightforward goals to achieve and work towards, and we have clarity on what is expected of us. More so than just practical skills, I personally wanted to work a lot on my leadership skills. I wanted to learn about forming successful relationships with my team members, and how to be more confident while leading others.
There are also things we absolutely hope never to encounter. The goal of our internship is not to simply work and follow orders, but rather to prepare for the leadership position we will hopefully carry in the future. Therefore, if we are constantly simply asked to perform operational tasks, without the opportunity to develop ourselves, we don’t consider the experience valuable. We need to be trusted with enough responsibilities and opportunities to grow during the internship.
We also need to have a nice balance between working and learning. A company that teaches us little to nothing, and puts no effort into trying to educate us about the industry and the job, doesn’t provide us with any added value.”
Wasim Helwani from Syria - student of HotelSchool The Hague, Netherlands.
“My first expectation has to do with receiving proper training, and being well empowered when I am ready. I see empowerment as a motivation and engagement driver. I believe that an intern can be a great asset for a company as anyone else in the team, therefore should be treated and invested in accordingly.
In the beginning of my last internship, I had an extensive and well-structured on-boarding, which allowed me to learn a lot about the property and to get to know the team. I also had a talk with the General Manager, and I thought it was really great for a GM to give time and consideration to students. All that together gave me the impression that everybody was getting the right attention and that communication was running smoothly amongst the hotel workers, and across hierarchy as well. As for me and my goals, throughout the program and the training period, I was focusing on exceeding the expectations of my mentor and trainers. The tricky part for me was leveling with everybody and understanding the impact of my actions on the learning process. Using the right amount of empowerment and independence is up to us, even though those two principles are well-promoted within the hotel’s culture.
I wanted to leave a positive impact, and I took an initiative upon myself which was very well received by my bosses. In the end however, it did not go through, and perhaps I would have needed clearer communications from my management on how to proceed.
With that being said, the ideal workplace for an intern like me, promotes a culture capable of empowering people by giving them the tools and the knowledge to put it into practice; a culture that rewards the work of interns (and everybody else in the team) and motivates them; a culture that challenges them to learn and try their best at every opportunity. An optimal environment, in my opinion, utilizes the full potential of interns, which creates a win-win situation."
Cansu Ozuysal from Cyprus - student of Hotel School The Hague, Netherlands.
"Learning and development opportunities are very important to me when experiencing an internship. If I am not able to develop myself within the company, it is very unlikely that I will consider applying for a position or staying afterwards. Clarity and guidance regarding my tasks and responsibilities are also crucial.
As interns starting a new position in a new company, we need training, clarity, trust and growth opportunities.
I personally value close coaching and explaining during the on-boarding phase, and I need to be trusted to fulfill my responsibilities after the on-boarding. I not only want to be valued for the work I do well, but also want to be rewarded with new responsibilities and opportunities to learn, if I deserve it. After all, I am there to acquire new skills and challenge myself. I want to have the same opportunities and treatment a full-time employee would have.
In general, if I can speak for myself and some of my fellow students and friends that have experienced internships, we all need to feel valued for what we do, and appreciated for our hard work. Often, this is not really the case or outlook of companies, which are instead focused on hiring interns to get the dirty job done.
Certain organizations run their operations with interns occupying many of their positions. This makes us feel like the major concern of the company is cost-cutting, versus people development and the creation of an environment that promotes learning and progress.
When that is the case, it puts a big question mark in our minds. Is this the company we want to work for? Will we be able to develop ourselves as leaders? Will we be able to achieve our goals and progress in our careers?
These are the questions we ask ourselves, and the questions a company should be aware of, when hiring interns.
I find it very interesting to hear from these young minds, who have such a fresh perspective on how we can improve certain development paths for our people.
And they are right: as I stated above internships can be very beneficial for both parties - the student and the organization - if approached in the right way. Students learn directly on the job and start their growth as the managers of tomorrow. The company benefits from young perspectives, fresh mindsets, ambitious and educated professionals who are eager to succeed and who are very dedicated.
As a management team, we need to stop looking at interns as the low-paid workforce which can be “used” wherever necessary to cover gaps. We need to stop wasting all their time in operational work. We need to stop considering them not capable enough because they are young and inexperienced.
These are the people who will continue our legacy, they are the industry future leaders, so why wouldn’t we invest the appropriate time, energy and resources in them??
We need to teach our managers to look at interns as an asset, and ensure they are treated with just the same respect and value as everybody else in the team.
So take a moment to sit down with them: go through their internship action plan, ask them what goals they have for themselves and give them some as well; establish from the start what they should achieve at the end of their experience, so they know right away what to work towards; give them clarity in terms of what expectations you have for them; spend time with them and get to know their strengths and improvement points; give them advice on how they can develop themselves.
Simple as for everybody else’s development plan, as Cansu said - they want to have the same opportunities and treatment as every other employee. Although an intern’s situation is slightly different: they only have a limited amount of time in your organization, and they have specific goals they need to achieve by the end of that short time frame to be able to pass. Help them get there.
As important as establishing goals and making a plan, it's ensuring they have a proper introduction and presentation to the property and the team. Wasim said it: how great was it for the GM to dedicate some time to the students? It’s an easy and effective way to make people feel comfortable, valued from their very first day, and part of the team.
Obviously a proper and extensive training cannot be overlooked, but what’s even more valuable is to let them put that training into action and venture out on their own. Teach them to be independent, empower them, push them to make their own decisions and let them make mistakes. Make them feel like you trust them even if they are new and inexperienced. They are capable and they should be given the opportunity to be in charge of their shift. Support them, give them feedback, but let them try on their own.
Don’t teach them only about managing operations, but work on their leadership skills. As Britt said - this is an experience meant to introduce them to the world of management, so learning how to manage people and relationships is certainly more crucial than learning the technical part of the job.
Sure, when you are a department head or you are in charge of running operations, it seems tough to find so much time and energy to dedicate to an intern. However, if you understand the benefits of all this, and you dedicate the right amount of time to it, you might just have prepared your next manager.
The other side of my pitch is addressed to the students themselves: now I want to give YOU some advice on how to approach your internship to make it successful and impactful.
Don't be narrow minded and focus on all angles: if you have felt undervalued or taken advantage of during a past experience, it might be because your organization did not understand all this, but it might also be because you did not make the best of your time with them. As I said in the very beginning of this discussion - when I was on the other side, I realized that the importance and value people would give to my work as an intern, would very much depend on how I was going to do it”.
As I mentioned, I have worked with some exceptional students - very eager, proactive, inspiringly ambitious, and extremely dedicated. But I have also had some less committed interns, which approached their experience with the “I just have to pass” mentality. I have seen some students working through their internship with a lazy and passive attitude, always waiting for managers to tell them what to do and how to do it, not asking questions or showing interest and enthusiasm, not concerned about their own path and growth.
A management internship is not a given, if you do not perform as it’s clearly expected of you, if you are not interested, if this is not for you, your experience will simply be a waste of time for the company and most importantly for yourself. Choose your internship wisely, because you need to enjoy it and because it will shape the start of your career. Be aware that the way you perform and behave affects your prospects and goals not only with the organization but with the industry in general. It is not uncommon to terminate interns who repeatedly fail to perform, so don’t feel like it’s owed to you. If you want to be treated the same way as the other team members, this is also inevitable.
Ask questions if you are not sure how to move forward in your path. Speak with your tutor if you feel like this is not for you or if you might benefit from something different… I asked to switch to operations, and I was granted my request. It was then that I realized operational work was the perfect fit for me. I am very grateful I was given the opportunity to find my direction, and I was brave enough to ask.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it.
Approach the experience with enthusiasm and commitment: this is your time to shine, it's opportunity to show that you are a valuable member of the team, that you are eager to learn and to help, that you are determined to do everything you can to become the next great leader. You are a proactive driven individual, dedicated to invest in your own development and to contribute to the success of the team. You do your best every day.
Only then your tutor will see your real potential and will be confident that developing you is a real worthy investment.
I hope these tips will be helpful to students, future interns and young hoteliers out there.
For anyone who has more specific questions or needs advice on anything, I would love to be of any assistance, so please contact me. You are the future of our industry, and I am here to do what I can to help you succeed!
International Master in Tourism & Leisure - class of 2006
MIB School of Management - Trieste (Italy)