Hiring a college student for a semester or summer can bring your company youthful perspective and an employee eager to learn. But the process of finding, training and overseeing a student for just two or three months can be overwhelming. A few simple steps can ensure that you make the most of your time and your interns, possibly creating a future hire.
Build relationships to find new interns. Joanna Kinsman, owner of Marina Del Rey-based Miss Kinsman Swimwear, says searching for an intern seemed like a full-time job. She felt her small start-up was ignored by internship programs at large universities like University of California Los Angeles and she set her sights on smaller boutique schools. Kinsman says this allowed her to forge relationships with internship coordinators who understood her needs and could play matchmaker when the right student comes along.
Set the stage. Once you’ve hired an intern you must establish expectations, says Geni Harclerode, assistant director of experiential learning and employer development for The Career Center at the University of Michigan. Let your interns know how their performance will be evaluated, how they will be paid, and who they can go to with concerns. “Remember for many of these students it’s their very first experience in the world of work,” Harclerode says.
Have a plan. Companies often fail to realize how much direction an intern will need, according to Dreama Lee, co-founder of Intern Profits, a company dedicated to helping entrepreneurs find, hire and manage interns, based in Blaine, Wash. She adds that they also don’t always communicate effectively or delegate duties in a clear cut way. “The average small business owner doesn’t have a robust education program set up for employees much less interns,” she says.
It’s crucial to define appropriate tasks an intern can realistically accomplish in the time they have with you, Lee says. Have ongoing projects that interns can work on when they finish specific assignments. Anticipate questions to save yourself time. Write out procedures for the little things you take for granted, such as using your phone system, transferring calls, calling the Help Desk and post them prominently. Create a document that lives on the cloud that your intern can access at any time to get questions answered. Update this document as you train future interns.
Overwhelmed? Services like Intern Profits offer online training tools like webinars, video courses and printable checklists defining easy intern assignments that apply across many industries, such as setting up social media profiles and blogs.
Keep them interested. Once interns understand your corporate culture, they can be turned into great employees. imo, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based app development company, has a robust internship program that has led to 10 full-time hires. Of course, this company pays interns a competitive salary and monthly housing stipend. Interns get gym memberships, catered meals, and organized adventures — not to mention desk treadmills and table games. But according to founder Ralph Harik, it doesn’t take over-the-top offerings to make interns want to stay. “The big thing is the ability to work on interesting things,” Harik says. Have interns shadow different staffers for a fuller picture of your company. Let them attend meetings to understand how ideas are put into action. Give them projects that assist different members of your team so they develop a range of relationships and understand how their work contributes to the whole.
Keep connected. When the internship ends, don’t lose touch. Most companies don’t hire their interns, according to a 2012 study by research firm Millenial Branding, and this practice can waste precious company time. When interns live locally, invite them to company gatherings such as happy hours and holiday parties. Give strong candidates an opportunity to freelance for you so your company stays top of mind. And as Harik suggests, stay connected through social media in case a full-time position opens up. There’s no reason to let a candidate you trained work for a competitor.