Work placements can be so much more than just ‘an extra pair of hands’

young-intern-listening-to-her-employer, work placements

We’ve all seen it – and many of us have been guilty of it – using the office intern as nothing more than an extra pair of hands, without thinking about what they’re getting from it.

It’s often hard to know how to structure and accommodate an intern. Who should they report to? Where is the best place for them to sit? What are the day-to-day tasks that they can really take ownership of, that will not only help the office, but also be a worthwhile experience for them?

After lots of trial and error, we’ve finally been able to devise a strong placement programme that is based on insight – reflecting on our own past experiences (good and bad) and actually asking the interns what they want to get out of the experience.

We really learnt what to do for our programme from the things we knew we had to avoid! From being the cheap labour who endlessly folded cheques into accounting folders and bladders being held because no-one bothered to show us where the toilets were. Or, as one of our colleagues reminisced, spending a week in a creative department despite the fact they were meant to be with HR because the creative team were friendly and gave her a seat when she looked lost.

There were obviously some positives though, which we have drawn upon to create the basis of our placement. One of our colleagues, whilst on a work placement at an ad agency, was able to assist on a real creative brief for Mint credit cards. Seeing how ideas are formed and executed confirmed that it a job that she actually wanted to do. But ultimately, it’s about actually taking the time to understand what the intern wants to get out of the experience and trying to understand why they want to join you.

So, taking all of the above into account, we’ve come up with the six absolute musts for bringing in an intern:

Ask them…

It sounds simple, but surprisingly few people ask an intern what they want to learn. Let’s really find out why they are here and see how we can give them the best experience possible. People will have to make an investment of time regardless, so why not make sure that it’s actually beneficial and making a difference?

Prepare properly…

We’ve all been there: “god, are they starting today?” Put in as much preparation as if it was a client meeting. Get all the prep done before they enter the building; don’t waste an entire morning scrambling for a laptop, desk space or trying to remember their name. Do the paperwork beforehand, know their objectives and prep the team / department that they’re working in ahead of time.


These kids (as they often still are) are used to an 8:30am start and regimented working day at school. We are lucky that we have a brilliant education system that trains them on punctuality and staying awake for as long as they do – so give them tasks by hour, or by half a day and tell them what they are doing and where they are going. They know nothing about how an office environment works, or even how to plan their own time, so remember that this is all new to them and they will need your help.

Buddy up…

Anyone new in a team is looking for a friend, so give them a go-to person who looks after their whereabouts throughout their stay. This is a great task for more junior members of staff who might not have managed before, or those looking for the next step.

Make them part of the team…

There’s nothing worse than doing tasks that you know are fake or of no use to anyone. You’ll quickly find that if you involve a smart young person in a genuinely important task, they will run with it and will probably surprise you with their thinking, execution or interesting point of view. We ask our interns about what social platforms they are on and speak to them about their favourite brands and why – it’s been so helpful for us oldies!


We merrily build test & learn programmes for our clients, so why not here too? Keep it moving, keep it evolving and take on board what they have to say. By refining, rejigging and optimising, the programme has the ability to be beneficial for everyone involved. Also, it’s worth asking them what they think of you, your agency and the work you do. Their fresh eyes will help you see what’s attractive to an outsider – especially if you’re looking to hire / attract new talent in.

We all see the importance of retaining great talent and internships are the first step in attracting people to the industry. So, whatever happens in the week or two they’re with you, keep in touch with these young people, build a community and let them know that your door is always open.

Fiona ScottAbout the author

By Fiona Scott, CEO, PSONA. Having worked at some of the best known creative agencies in the UK, Fiona Scott joined PSONA at the beginning of 2016 with a remit to build awareness of the agency’s depth and breadth of offering.

Fiona has extensive experience of managing and growing creative direct and digital agencies including Elvis, Craik Jones and Kitcatt Nohr. Among a clutch of awards she has helped win, Fiona led a team that collected three DMA Grand Prixes for its work on Land Rover, as well as helping clinch Agency of the Year plaudits.

Along with collecting industry gongs, Fiona has worked with leading brands such as Sky, P&G, Unilever and Diageo, helping them through the growing pains of data and digital marketing.

In a break from the agency world a few years ago, Fiona even launched her own fashion brand, La Mack London, from scratch. The upmarket, luxury rainwear brand ended up being ordered by Harrods and was featured in glossy titles such as Tatler and Drapers. Bringing this entrepreneurial zeal to PSONA, Fiona is excited about the opportunity to build the UK’s most exciting customer engagement agency of the past ten years. Besides which, her name rhymes with the brand – it was obviously meant to be. Away from work, Fiona is a keen runner who can usually be seen being dragged on her daily trot by her enthusiastic dog Jack.

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