For many small businesses, hiring interns--whether paid or unpaid--is a creative solution to both staffing problems and tight budgets. By bringing interns on board and letting them handle projects suited to their abilities, you can stretch your resources to remarkable lengths.
Let's say you own a sporting goods store and you need some work done on your database so you can market your inventory more efficiently. Or maybe you have other marketing tasks that can provide real-world business experience to a willing student. Finding the right person to fill the position may not be easy, but if your local community college or university offers an internship program, you might be able to find the perfect candidate. By hiring a talented student, you can accomplish essential marketing tasks and give an enthusiastic, motivated student some hands-on experience.
In addition, when interns handle marketing projects, it gives other staff members time to tackle projects that have been postponed. Plus, interns can be valuable "fill-ins" when regular employees are away from work.
Leann Anderson is the owner of Anderson Business Resources, a Greeley, Colorado, company specializing in customer service, marketing and business etiquette. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Course Of Action
The key to making an internship work lies in both parties being prepared. So before you contact the marketing department at a college or university, think about what you need from an intern:
- Write out the internship job requirements. What specific marketing skills do they need?
- Itemize what they'll be learning. Going back to the sporting goods example, suppose you plan to open a "specialty golf shack" as a new part of your store. You could use an intern with marketing skills to help introduce this new department to the public. You might even want your intern to focus all his or her efforts on promoting the new department, handling everything from direct mail to the grand opening (with input from you, of course). While it's not always easy to describe exactly what the intern will gain, you should have several ideas in mind--and ways to measure the intern's performance. It's especially important to spell out the value of the learning experience because no worthwhile administrator of an internship program would approve placement until this information is determined.
- Contact the college or university well in advance to find out what its requirements are. You may need to tweak your job description or terms of employment. In addition, you'll find out the required salary level for interns, whether or not they earn credit and what your evaluation responsibilities will be. If college credit is part of the package, be prepared to do some paperwork.
- Ask college representatives to post your job announcement. Interview early in the year to catch the best applicants, and be sure to ask those applicants to submit a resume and work samples (if appropriate) before you interview them. Then conduct interviews just as you would when filling any other position at your company.
- Allow time for thorough training. Look for a combination of marketing tasks that need to be done and those that will truly give the intern some hands-on experience. For example, if your intern turns out to be a real whiz at organizing and staging special events, play on that strength.
- Don't abandon your intern. Make sure you or a supervisor makes time for the intern at least once a day for the first few weeks. They need to know they are accountable, and you need to give them feedback and guidance.
Not only do interns help you in the here and now, but they can also be a source of future employees. Finding a quick learner through an internship may save you from having to search for good employees later.
For more information on hiring interns, see "Legal Aid," November 1997.