By Michael Gunther
It’s that time of year again when new interns begin their first taste of a real-life career at an established company. It took us some time, but eventually we figured out how to make a successful intern program work for our business and thus, the students themselves. Previously, our interns have been huge assets to our team; they are always missed as they pursue their career-driven opportunities.
I’ve heard many stories about companies hiring interns and feeling that it’s not worth the effort or energy and that the interns didn’t really contribute anything to their organization. I remember the first time we brought on an intern a few years ago. We were actually approached by a student to join us so that he could fulfill his degree requirements for San Francisco State. He was known then, and is still known in our firm, as “Kyle The Intern.” We weren’t really prepared to have an intern, but other businesses often used them, so we thought it was a great idea.
We learned through this experience (thank you Kyle for being our ‘beta test’ intern) that he was willing to learn and do anything we asked of him. We tried to make sure that he had the opportunity to see all aspects of the business, but we didn’t have a precise plan for his time with us. Thus, we didn’t maximize his value.
We since developed a solid process for screening and hiring strong interns. Interestingly enough, this process has proved so effective that we ended up hiring three of our interns for part-time work.
A few of the things we learned:
Have a clear purpose or project for the interns. Legally, you’re not supposed to use interns for administrative tasks. Unfortunately, many companies don’t follow this rule and, ultimately, their interns don’t encounter a learning experience. We actually outline specific projects or internal programs we want to develop. We then define the skills and background we might need so that we can recruit the right individuals.
Recruit as if you are hiring an employee. Our interns come in for multiple interviews, take our WorkTraits Behavior Assessment and have to complete some homework before we decide if they are the right fit. In addition, based on our needs, we will actually go to the dean of a particular department to see who they might recommend.
Treat them as team members. We put them through our new employee orientation program, and have them read our employee handbook. We want them to understand who we are and what we do so that they understand how each project they work on is connected to our mission. We also provide specific outcomes to achieve over their 10-week internship period. And we always include them in our team building social activities.
Meet with them on a regular basis. We meet one-on-one with our interns weekly to see how their projects are going and what they’re learning. These discussions also provide the intern with the opportunity to take on new responsibilities. We truly strive to make this a learning environment for them, and at the same time they’re assisting us in moving projects forward at a quicker pace.
We’ve been able to find great part-time help through this process. It’s exciting to see their careers just starting off and know that we were a part of their initial journey into the corporate workforce.
I would recommend that if you’re going to hire interns, you prepare for them as if they are new employees. You can’t just leave them alone to do a project without some mentoring and management. If implemented properly, internships can produce incredible results for your company and also provide a phenomenal experience for the students who are just in the infancy of their careers. And who knows, maybe these interns may come back one day to work with you once they’ve explored the rest of the world.