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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

The Valuable Interns You're Missing Out On

When you think about interns, there's probably a certain stereotype that pops into your mind: A spry college student or recent grad holding the boss' mocha Frappuccino in one hand and crippling uncertainty about the future in the other. But there's a different internship applicant who’s almost always left out of the equation—high school students.

The idea of high school interns may seem a little strange, even counterintuitive: Why would anyone want to hire a person who has less experience, education, direction, and years of maturity than usual intern applicants? What would someone who can barely drive add that an older student wouldn't? To most, the debate over hiring a high schooler as opposed to a college student may seem like a foregone conclusion.

But after having launched a virtual high school internship program within my organization earlier this year, I was instantly floored by how much insight our teenage interns were able to provide—and how much their ideas differed from those of our college staff members. Read on for some of the hidden advantages to having a high school intern.

They Have a Different Type of Company Loyalty

If you think about what motivates high schoolers vs. college students to intern, it becomes pretty evident how they may approach their work differently. Usually college students are thinking of their internship as a stepping stone to their first job, and therefore may only be drawn to tasks that they can use to bolster their resumes. For many high school students, though, an internship is their first real experience in a professional setting, and they will do anything to make sure your company thrives and that they put their best foot forward. They come at employment from much more of a “What can I offer this organization?” approach instead of a “What does this organization offer me and my career?” perspective.

Here’s a fun example: This past summer, I half-jokingly made the suggestion on my organization’s all-staff Facebook group about us ordering company bro tanks. No more than 10 minutes later, I received an email from a high school intern asking if she could spearhead the creation of the shirts. I agreed, and next thing I knew, I had the contact information for several clothing manufacturers, three different t-shirt designs, and separate paragraphs on pricing for each of the designs. Talk about unbridled dedication!

At the end of the day, lots of college interns wouldn’t take on random projects like making t-shirts; after all, who wants to write, “Oversaw the creation of company bro tanks” on his or her professional resume? High schoolers, on the other hand, are great for tasks like organizing important company Google Docs or managing your organization’s much-neglected blog. They find this sort of work fun, and it really makes working for a company more meaningful and enjoyable to them. And who knows? These smaller endeavors might lead to something big for your company!

They Ask Obvious Questions That You’ve Never Thought Of

This concept reminds me of those puzzles that three year-olds can solve in two minutes but adults take hours to understand. Because high schoolers typically haven’t been exposed to business before, they look at it from a very simple standpoint. Not a stupid one or an ignorant one, just simple. And that simplicity makes it easy for them to point out ideas you might never have even thought about but are so obvious.

I remember talking to one of my organization’s high school interns about how a large number of our teenage social media followers are fashion-savvy types who read a lot about style and trends. She suggested the obvious: The section of our website that focuses on high school culture should have a fashion column. Why hadn't I thought of that before? We now have the first post of our fashion column going up this month that will show high school and college students how to be trendsetters at school.

While your gut may be to turn toward more seasoned employees when looking for new ideas and solutions for your organization, don’t rule out the input of high school interns. They may be able to give you a more out-of-the-box perspective that may be more in line with how your consumers view your product or brand.

They Can Help You Tap Into New Audiences

Need any help understanding Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Vine, Instagram, or any of those weird pop culture trends? (Seriously, what’s the deal with Grumpy Cat?) While college kids definitely have some of the beat, from what I’ve seen, high schoolers have even more of the lowdown. After all, it's typically a bunch of 16 year-olds sitting on Tumblr who come up with these pop culture phenomena. They’re the ones tweeting about Miley’s twerking and discussing why John Green is the next J.K. Rowling long before anyone else catches on.

“Lily, it’d be hilarious if we had a bunch of ‘Calming Manatee’ memes on our Facebook page!” an intern emailed me. What the heck is that? I thought. I took a risk and posted the Calming Manatee meme that the intern sent me. Next thing I know, tons of people were talking about how funny and insightful we were. “You understand the youth!” a partner institution told me when referencing those memes.

While I wouldn’t recommend blindly following every suggestion high schoolers give you, they can provide tons of insight on various cultural phenomena, and you can pick and choose what you think will help your business.

It might seem hard to find uses for high school interns at your company at first, but trust me on this: If you work for an organization that has anything to do with the youth, pop culture, or social media, there’s going to come a time when you’ll want a youngster’s opinions and help.

Photo of high school intern courtesy of Shutterstock.