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What can you learn from your interns this summer?

School might be out for the summer, but that doesn't mean your brand gets to play hooky.

In fact, the warmer months might be the best time to enroll your company in a new extracurricular activity to take advantage of the longer days and seasonal downtime.

It's this time of year that often brings fresh and diverse assets into the workplace. I'm talking about interns, co-op students, and part-time help who begin popping up around the office, eager and grateful for the opportunity to gain some experience.

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Internships and co-op placements provide students and young people with tremendous opportunities to get a taste of the corporate environment, and to gain valuable experience. At any given time, we have several interns working with us at my company, who we hope will one day go on to become leaders in our industry.

But the learning that takes places during an internship should not be a one-sided experience.

What many leaders don't realize is that millennials can actually inform business decisions and teach current employees and executives a thing or two about growing their brand. Today's young people are brand savvy, voracious consumers of media, and can provide valuable insights as to how the world sees your brand.

So what can you learn from your junior staff this summer?

Practise reverse mentoring

Reverse mentoring is exactly what it sounds like; it assumes that the traditional mentor has much to learn from an intern or co-op student. The idea isn't new. General Electric was one of the first companies to rethink the traditional mentor/mentee relationship, and since then multinational companies like Cisco, HP and Microsoft have followed suit.

You've no doubt been told about the work habits of millennials, and how this generation operates differently from those that have come before. While some of those claims can be overblown, it's true that today's student interns have a unique way of looking at the world, and with the right environment, you can use that unique perspective to help your business grow.

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During informal reverse mentoring, interns aren't made explicitly aware they are teaching their mentors. These mentorship opportunities often come about through real, face-to-face interactions between leaders and juniors. Through chatting about their personal lives, what they're reading, or sharing their thoughts on the newest technological innovations, leaders gain valuable insights and perspectives from a member of a coveted demographic. These learnings can be applied to the organizational structure, marketing plan, or new product innovations.

Some companies prefer to formalize the reverse mentoring process in an effort to engage junior employees with more senior staff members. Creating a formal reverse mentoring program can sometimes help to encourage staff interaction, and kick-start the sharing of ideas throughout the organization. Ultimately, both approaches give millennials the opportunity to share their insights and help shape the business.

Engage in market research

Millennials grew up in the digital age, and as a result they often understand and adopt emerging technologies and social media trends faster than other generations.

Instead of spending thousands of dollars on omnibus studies to get inside millennial brains, why not take a poll of your most junior employees when you're looking for feedback on a particular issue or new campaign? Or better still, have them tap into their own social circles for honest feedback.

One of the easiest and most useful ways to leverage millennial creativity is by hosting department or companywide brainstorms. Inviting junior employees – including part-time or short-term workers like interns and co-op students – to participate and provide their unique points of view. This kind of feedback can be key to ensuring your brand comes up with fresh and innovative ideas.

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At North Strategic, we've partnered with Ten Thousand Coffees to leverage their network of young people to share new product ideas, gain feedback on a particular program or collaborate on new ideas to help our clients tap into the millennials who they are targeting.

Whichever way you go about it, ensure you are not only giving millennials a seat at the table, but that you are also encouraging them to speak their mind and offer their insights.

Develop meaningful relationships

It's important for brands to remember that when a summer intern or co-op student decides to invest five days a week and more than 600 hours into your company over the summer months, a great way to reward them is with some one-on-one time with senior leadership.

And I'm not talking about a welcome lunch with 15 other faces competing for your attention. Invest your time in getting to know the millennials in your workplace; find out where they want to be in five years, what they would change about your brand if they could, and what they like to do in their off-hours. Developing meaningful relationships with the junior employees is just as invaluable for you as it is for them. You never know how far today's intern will go – they might even end up being your business partner one day.

Mia Pearson is co-founder of North Strategic, Canada's fastest growing social and public relations agency, and Notch Video, the first video content community and online marketplace in the country.

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About the Author
Social and Earned Media Columnist

A combination of entrepreneurial spirit and timing led Mia Pearson to co-found North Strategic, a communications agency built on the belief that social needs to be integrated into everything you do. A serial entrepreneur, Ms. More

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