Career & Work

Eight Surprisingly Important Tasks Being Handled By Interns


During the summer, the odds shoot up that you’ll be doing business with an intern. And you might be surprised at the type of transactions that have a temporary student hire at the other end, from issuing bank loans to leading historical tours.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should reschedule all your meetings until the grownups get back from vacation. Interns are getting more responsibility, in part, because they’re increasingly qualified. U.S. companies are demanding specialized skills of intern applicants, according to a report (PDF) issued in May by workplace technology company Burning Glass.

“There’s an impression out there that an internship is where you go to learn job skills,” says Dan Restuccia, director of applied research at Burning Glass. “What we’re seeing here is that employers are asking you to come with skills already.”

Some interns get to show off aptitude in big ways. Here are some jobs that companies saw fit to delegate to graduate and undergraduate interns:

Writing political speeches
Interns probably penned some of the speeches you hear politicians give on the floor of the Senate or on the campaign trail. While a student at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Cody Keenan joined Barack Obama’s speech writing staff of two as an intern while Obama’s first presidential campaign was getting underway in 2007. The team’s leanness gave Keenan a hand in Obama’s early presidential speeches, even as an intern. He is now the president’s lead speechwriter.

“I stayed up all night before my first day, watching YouTube (GOOG) videos of him speaking, and listened to the language and rhythms of his speech. It was pretty scary, and I didn’t want to let anyone down,” Keenan told the alumni magazine at Northwestern University.

Finding your new favorite baseball player
Most Major League clubs have interns who update game statistics and compile scouting reports. Justin Horowitz, a 2013 graduate of Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, got to the Boston Red Sox 2013 championship season firsthand as the club’s baseball operations intern. His job was to help the team find additional players. Horowitz analyzed athletes from such countries as Cuba, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, he told a Georgetown student club blog.

Producing the New York Times’ most-read feature
Hundreds of New York Times reporters got shown up by an intern in the paper’s graphics department last year. Josh Katz, then a graduate statistics student at North Carolina State University, created the Times’ dialect quiz in December. The interactive feature, which was the paper’s most visited piece of online content last year, asked English-speaking readers to choose phrasing and pronunciation from a series of questions (sub, hoagie or hero?) and used the answers to guess their home region in the U.S. In just 11 days, the feature had more visits than the Times’ Boston bombing coverage.

Katz completed the app in the last month of his internship, after which the paper offered him a job. “I’m pretty blown away by the response to the whole thing,” Katz told Northwestern University’s Knight Lab in January.

Leading guided tours for mobs of Washington tourists 
Thousands of interns walk the halls of of the Capitol every summer, and many are tasked with giving tours of Washington’s historic buildings to some of the District of Columbia’s millions of visitors. NPR took an amusing look inside the awkward arrangement this week, revealing that many of the facts dished out to summer campers and vacationing families are a bit off. (Don’t ask them when the Capitol burned down, for instance.)

Handling your money
Thinking of getting some banking done over the summer? Or looking for a loan approval? An intern could be responsible for your financial future—or your company’s. Internship programs such as the one at Bank of America (BAC) include a summer analyst program for undergraduates to “participate in the underwriting of different credit deals.” Interns also could be helping staff your neighborhood bank. Cameron Ford, a recent college student, told ProPublica she interned as a bank teller and did work on loan deals.

Discovering prized snake fossils
Catalina Suarez Gomez was collecting fossils in a coal mine four years ago as an archaeological intern for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. The five-person research group she worked in was thrilled to find about half of a 60-million-year-old skeleton belonging to Titanoboa, the world’s largest-known prehistoric snake, on a trip to the Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia.

Then Gomez realized the snake’s skull was under her feet. “My heart started beating so fast. I could not believe what I was seeing,” she says. Gomez says her having located the skull helped researchers determine the snake’s original dimensions (42 feet long and one ton, if you’re wondering).

Helping immigrants stay in the U.S.
Perhaps one of the highest-stakes decisions that could be made about your life is whether you can live in your chosen country. One instance plays a pivotal role for many immigrants to the U.S.. Kathleen Lewis, a senior at Johns Hopkins University, is interning this summer in New York for the Legal Aid Society. She works with immigrants trying to stay in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows people who came to the country as undocumented immigrants to defer deportation. Lewis and a second intern meet with clients and put together applications for those immigrants to obtain work permits. “You can tell it’s really important to these people to work,” she says.

Leading a fashion retailer into a foreign country
Don’t forget that it’s not just undergraduates filling intern slots but MBAs with established business chops, too. Nordstrom (JWN), called one of the 25 best companies for interns by Glassdoor.com, had MBA interns help the company enter the Canadian market, says Emily Romans, a public affairs specialist at the company. Interns also study store layouts and apparel sales to determine how items should be arranged. “These findings have been used to influence our store design and merchandising strategies,” Romans says.

Weinberg is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek covering business schools.

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