If you’re like us, the word “intern” brings up visions of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson goofing off at the Google offices. While a great movie, it isn’t exactly great insight into how beneficial an intern can be, especially for small business owners. An intern can bring fresh ideas at low cost, and you get an opportunity to help someone else learn how to be a great employee. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind if you decide that an intern would be a great asset to your team.
Make a clear job description (and stick to it).
Nothing will frustrate the both of you more than having someone show up to your office every day without a clear plan of what needs to be accomplished. They are also probably required to submit this description to an advisor at school, so this should be something you complete after you’ve both officially agreed on the internship. Make sure it is complete with daily tasks, long term projects, and any skill sets they’ll be learning or polishing while working with you and your team.
Performance management is a must.
Have a performance management plan that you and the intern jointly fill out at the beginning, middle, and end of the internship period. That way you can keep a record of the intern’s goals and their completion.
In addition to all the small administrative tasks that you might assign to your interns throughout their time, you should always give them at least one long-term project that they will own. Keep in mind this shouldn’t be a critical project. It could be a marketing campaign, a video project, a small part of your website you want to build out, or any number of other meaningful projects that can be planned and executed in a short timeframe.
Assigning interns at least one large project gives them something to work on during their downtime when you might be too busy to assign them a smaller task. It also motivates them to have something meaningful they can put on their resume.
Give real projects.
One point of an internship is to teach a young adult how the business world operates. Keep in mind they often have little to no experience. There are several ways to get around the learning curve quickly. Have your intern listen in on a sales call. Let he or she do a first draft of a project proposal. Introduce he or she to clients as, “This is Jane. She’s doing an internship with us this summer. She’s a student at XYZ State University, and we’re thrilled to have her.” This way, your clients know the intern’s role upfront and can manage expectations accordingly.
If you are just having your intern clean the office or sort out the filing cabinet, that’s a summer admin job. That’s also valuable (and a position like that might be essential to your team), but is not an internship. The real projects are the items that are going to give your intern confidence, build their skill sets, and leave them feeling invested in your company!
Give feedback (and lots of it).
College students are used to homework assignments, papers, and tests that regularly tell them how they are doing in great detail from their professors. Simply saying, “Good job!” isn’t going to have the same effect with them as it might with more experienced colleagues. Tell your intern precisely what was you thought he or she accomplished well and what could be improved.