With spring around the corner, both businesses and college students alike are thinking about summer internships. Small business owners love interns because they not only provide an extra pair of hands, but they are lively, eager to learn and can offer a fresh perspective on the day-to-day running of a business.
That said, it can be tricky to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship for both you and your intern. You of course want your intern to learn and contribute, but you also need to be sure that your business continues to run effectively. When you decide that you want to hire an intern, keep in mind these dos and don’ts of the hiring process that can help you each get the most out of your respective experiences:
Do hire like it’s a job. An intern should be more than just an extra pair of hands, so you need to hire your intern as if you are hiring another regular staff member. Be thorough and careful about whom you bring in. You want someone trustworthy who fits with the culture of your business.
Do create a valuable experience. Back in the day, I was a member of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs— a full-time, nine month, graduate-level experiential leadership training program that rotated internship opportunities. The best internship I experienced was my time with a local labor leader, where I shadowed him throughout his daily meetings and negotiations. The worst one I experienced was my time working for a media company, where I was put into an empty office with nothing to do for three weeks.
If you are fortunate enough to find interns who want to work at your office for little pay, then make it worth their while. They are typically very capable and eager to please. Use that. Give them real work. Let them sit in on meetings. Give realistic assignments for their skill level. Don’t just give them busy work that renders them unable to learn.
Don’t forget to give your interns proper training, supervision and a mentor. Interns don’t work out when they are given little or no training, supervision or feedback. You have to help them help you and often, the best way to do that is to assign a mentor to the intern. Having one point person give direction and mentor the intern makes the intern feel secure, and also gives you a way of ensuring that he or she is getting their work done properly and on time.
Do make sure to include some play. Most college students are not yet used to the 9 to 5 grind, and typically have more down time during their normal day. By including some fun into their experience— maybe an afternoon at a ballgame or free tickets to a local concert that you sponsored— the internship can also infuse your business with some energy.
Don’t lower expectations. A good intern wants to be challenged and wants to impress. Let them.
Bringing in interns might be a little more work than you expect, and it might take some time for each new intern to settle into his or her role. But, the experience is rewarding for both yourself and your intern if you offer them an exceptional experience. And who knows— maybe they’ll spread the word about how great it is to work for you!
Are you planning on hiring an intern this summer? Share your thoughts below.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss