I’m excited to work with the new batch of interns arriving this summer. Yes, me: the principal of the firm. As they arrive—from Michigan, Syracuse, Virginia and beyond—I eagerly greet them and invite them to join me for a chat across my desk, because I know something you should too: they are valuable.
My enthusiasm stems from personal experience. Back in 2010, I got a referral from one of my good friends in the Young Presidents Organization, a global leadership network I’ve belonged to for many years. He enthusiastically imparted to me the story of his partner’s son, who loved architecture, knew who I was, wanted to meet me and, of course, was hoping I’d consider him for an internship. I invited the second-year Syracuse University student to my office during his next school break and, wouldn’t you know it, he had a winning personality with a portfolio to match!
While that’s the recipe for a good intern, it was what he did after he got through the door that made him a standout. I believe interns should contribute, fully participate and better themselves during their stay, so I made him, like the other interns we hire, part of a real project team. That summer, he assisted a full team of architects and did an outstanding job. He diligently got to down to business as if he had been employed at my firm for years, bringing a solid work ethic, fresh energy and ideas to the office. He took direction, yet worked independently. He offered constructive ideas, but only after asking meaningful questions. His desire to learn and willingness to assert his opinions led to an open invitation to return the following summer … and the one after that.
At graduation time, I offered that intern a position as a junior architect at my firm—a no-brainer. After a formal interview that only furthered my respect for him, he accepted. In this economy, when market conditions mean employers have more résumés to sift through than there are spots to fill, it was that much more special to be able to bring him aboard. This spring, our former intern celebrates his first anniversary with Spector Group, and I can honestly say that it’s been a positive experience on both ends.
So, what can an intern—or future intern—learn from this story? First of all, use all of your resources. I’ve met interns through associates I work with on the real estate brokerage side of the business, who, through networking, were able to open a door for their nephew, the aspiring architect. I even met one of this summer’s interns by chance, on a college walkthrough with my own aspiring architect son. She simply impressed me upon first meeting, and that led to her serving as an extern for a day, then as an intern for a week. Now she’ll spend most of her summer at our firm and, well, who knows where that will lead.
I also advise interns not to settle for the thought of a “typical internship.” If you walk in and act quiet and subservient, afraid to ask questions and learn, you won’t be there long—or you won’t be called back. Make the most of this opportunity. Stay a few extra hours; be willing to take on more. If you don’t ask, you don’t get! This is your chance to apply what you’ve learned in school, beyond the theoretical. Being open to real-world learning can lead to bigger and better things than you’ve ever imagined.
Now, some advice for my peers in the business: You will get plenty of calls and pull-asides at cocktail parties from industry cohorts recommending their sons, daughters and friends. How you prioritize those requests is an art form. My approach is as follows: stick to your own ideals, stay honest, and be open to meeting with as many potential candidates as possible. Above all, take the opportunity to work with those interns seriously. Consider giving them real job duties rather than having them fix the library and fetch the coffee. That early twentysomething looking up at you with a curious gaze? They could someday be your colleague—or your competitor.
Until then, a toast to this year’s interns. May you be warmly welcomed into the exciting and opportunity-filled world of commercial real estate and architecture, and may you make the most of these precious months.