An intern isn’t just an employee. He or she is a student exploring this world you’ve created, ready to learn.
Even though many companies treat them as cheap labor or a part-time worker, that’s not living up to the pact between an employer and an intern. That’s bad for both parties and can lead to big problems, bad feelings, and worse.
The Intern as Explorer
If you remember when you were in school, you learned a lot. Maybe you even thought you knew it all. Then you went into the real world, hopefully had a real internship, and discovered that there were gaps, no matter how good your education was. The reason: because every organization applies things differently depending on whether they are are for-profit or non-profit, business-to-business or business-to-consumer, product or service focused.
Hire an intern, you will need to let them do some exploring. Part of your job is to help them see if this is the right path for them.
The Intern as Learner
An intern may seem to have just the education and skills you need. They may even have been an intern somewhere else before applying to work with you. You may think the best way for them to learn is as if they were just any other employee. But they aren’t.
I’ve had interns who didn’t know:
- How to maintain an accurate timesheet or even what a timesheet was.
- Their responsibility in terms of how to manage their time.
- How to ask for time off or keep the office informed of schedule changes.
- How to do the tasks they have been trained to do.
If you think about it, this probably isn’t unusual. Most interns are young. They aren’t too far away from fighting with their parents about curfew and where they are and who they’re with. The need to “stay in touch” through social media, their social media, is a huge driver. You can end up or your staff can feel they have to be a combination of babysitter and parent.
Hire an intern and they will need more guidance and rules than a regular employee.
Your Golden Opportunity with an Intern
An intern can really be an asset if you see them as they really are — new to business life and work.
They can give you more than the ability to get those tasks done that have been on your to do list forever. There are key benefits of having an intern to help you grow your business.
They challenge you to:
- Get more organized. With an intern, you have to look at what you’re doing in terms of tasks and manageable sub-tasks that lead to accomplishing a goal.
- Be open. They bring what they learned and what they want to try out themselves. You and your staff have to give them encouragement where appropriate and re-direct where necessary.
- Be willing to learn. An intern brings with them new approaches, new information, new ways. You can learn a lot from an intern just as they can learn a lot from you.
What I’ve Learned
I’ve had high school through Ph.D. students as interns. Some have been more helpful than others. Some have remained lifelong friends and I’ve had the pleasure of watching them grow and succeed with their own businesses.
I didn’t end up hiring them. Not because they weren’t what I needed but because I wasn’t what they needed for their future. That’s one of the issues every small business faces: we’re usually a training ground for bigger and better opportunities for these student-explorers.
I do recommend:
- Choosing an intern with the right attitude towards this opportunity and is willing to listen and learn.
- Having a special “onboarding” intern orientation program with a guide or checklist for them to have available at all times.
- Talking to an intern about what they want to get out of their internship not just when they start but at least weekly while they are with you. Make adjustments.
- Spending more time explaining the “whys” of how you do what you do. You help them understand how a “boss” thinks and gives you an opportunity to let them ask questions and share what they’ve learned in school.
- Remembering and making sure all staff understand that these are explorers and learners. Part of everyone’s job is to help them accomplish those goals. The internship experience should be goal-oriented for both interns and employers.
- Talking to others who’ve had interns and learn from them.
- Letting your intern evaluate you not just evaluate them. You’ll learn your strengths and weaknesses and what adjustments you might want to make.
- Encouraging your intern to talk about their experiences with their peers. If you do a good job, your intern will encourage friends like them to apply. They might even bring you some business!
There are some other good resources. You might want to check these out.
- Seven Steps to Success (Setting Up an Internship Program whitepaper)
- Total Internship Management, a book based on studies by InternBridge.com
- Best Practices with Interns by Susan M. Heathfield
The Most Important Advice about an Intern
If you want a successful intern, have a process in place to help you both be successful. Don’t wing it.