For many of us, interns provide much needed capacity and it is easy to get caught up in the day to day of project management during their time at our organizations. However, we should never lose sight of our roles as mentors and coaches to these future leaders for freedom. Michael J. Reitz of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy offers these eight tips for giving your interns a strong start.  

Summer is on the way, and so are your interns.

Every summer, the Mackinac Center hosts a handful of college students who help us carry out our mission. Our interns are fully integrated into the team: they attend events, conduct research, take part in strategy meetings, and assist our scholars. Along the way, we teach them about economics, public policy analysis, classical liberal ideas, and good career practices.

We have an annual opportunity to teach these young professionals fundamental skills, as well as behaviors and habits that create real leverage for their careers. As you welcome young talent into your organizations, you can help set interns on the path to creating value and achieving success by teaching them these lessons:

  1. Trust is a fragile resource. Work hard to build it; work even harder to keep it intact. Tell the truth. Keep your commitments. Admit your mistakes. A professional network is an appreciating asset, so avoid cancerous office politics.
  2. Cultivate curiosity. One should never stop learning. This means formal education, certainly, but one also should never suspend their willingness to learn. Living with curiosity
    makes life much more interesting.
  3. Own responsibilities. “If I don’t do this, it won’t get done.” “I’m not indispensable, but it’s up to me.” A person who exhibits ownership doesn’t pawn tasks off to others or expect to be bailed out when they fail to do the work. I’ll never forget the day, years ago, when I blamed my missed deadline on a colleague. “I expect you to produce results, not excuses,” said my boss. Lesson learned.
  4. Don’t assume the answer will be “no.” It’s easy to talk oneself out of something. “I won’t apply for that job because they wouldn’t hire me,” or “I won’t ask for that project because someone else is more qualified.” Audacity creates opportunity.
  5. Practice candor. Be willing to say what you think, with courtesy. Candor must be based on care for the other person and a commitment to a shared mission. Candor also is a two-way street, so be willing to receive and respond to feedback.
  6. Understand how influence works. One can exercise relational influence over others or have role power. The latter is more potent; the former is more effective.
  7. Write well. Writing is a skill required in the public policy arena, but nearly every occupation would benefit from the discipline of forming an argument and articulating it with clarity.
  8. Fear is a worthy motivator. Terror is included in the job description of a great employee. Try new things, shatter assumptions, and take risks.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still grateful for the men and women who taught me the principles of being a valuable team member. Beyond simply being the right thing to do, seizing the opportunity to coach young professionals also creates a rich hiring pool. Seven Mackinac Center staff members started out as Mackinac Center interns at some point, and they exemplify the best of these values.

Michael J. Reitz is executive vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Additional Internship Resources

The Mackinac Center has also created InternNet, a free, virtual national speaker series that connects policy experts and liberty visionaries to liberty-oriented students all over the country. Last year they had 14 thought leaders on topics ranging from policy issues such as occupational licensing and education reform to other movement-minded issues like strategic communications and civil society.

These sessions can be a great supplement to your internship program. Not only does this give students a chance to hear about important topics from national influencers, it also gives them an opportunity to connect with other students in the liberty movement. The 2018 InternNet season begins June 5 and sessions will be available live throughout the summer on Tuesdays at 12:30 pm ET.

If your students are interested in participating in this stimulating program, please direct them to to register!