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.