I’ve supervised four interns here at Roundpeg.

I’ve made at least three of them cry.

Two of them hate my guts.

Two of them are respected professionals who I genuinely consider both friends and colleagues.

Why is there this dichotomy? Why do half of my former interns despise me–and why am I okay with it? Simple: I care enough about my interns to push them to the very limit of their abilities and then some. With me, they can’t get away with “good enough.”

Let’s face it: most undergrad and even graduate programs don’t prepare students for the real world. They teach them to read and regurgitate information and theories that are rarely used in the real world. I can honestly say  I’ve never used the n-step theories I learned in my Public Relations Theory class. There are only two things  I care that my interns can do: think and write.

Both sound deceptively simple. We “learn” to do these things from very young ages. But are we really learning them in ways that are productive and prepare us for the workplace?

Let’s take writing. Two of my past interns have been graduate students, and both  had a very hard time writing in common, every day language. They preferred  long, sprawling sentences with complicated syntax and convoluted clauses. This type of writing makes sense: in school, they’re required to write a certain number of words, and they’re trying to sound smart. In marketing, things need to be short and to the point. They shouldn’t be long or complicated. Academic writing is the enemy of good (and engaging) writing.

And then there’s thinking. Time and time again, I see students flounder when not given exact directions to follow. When I ask them to interpret something or come up with ideas, they become stymied and lost. Sure, I know how I’d do it, but I want them to figure it out. Maybe they’ll find a way that’s better.

So what’s the right thing to do? Quietly correct their writing, and give them exacting directions rather than asking them to think for themselves? I don’t think so. That doesn’t help them, the future generation of professionals or anyone else. So I give them feedback. Sometimes it’s harsh. Sometimes I make their writing bleed with red ink, or I force them to go through the birth-like pains that real, deep thinking involves. I tell them that I don’t care if they’re not feeling creative, we have a deadline, so they’d better come up with something fast. But I make sure they know it’s never personal. They’re not stupid, they’re learning. They’re not bad people, they’ve been poorly taught.

I’m mean to my interns because I care deeply about their development both as people and young professionals. If you care about your interns, you’ll do the same. Or if you’re an intern who genuinely wants to learn, get better and become the best, apply for an internship.