By Michael Gunther, Founder & Managing Partner

It’s that time of year again – our interns are graduating from college and leaving to start the next stage of their lives and careers. This year is especially hard because I think we’ve finally figured out how to make a successful intern program work for our business and thus, the individuals leaving – Gracie, Sam and Megan – have been huge assets to our team and will be missed as they pursue opportunities outside the area.

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 requirements in order to obtain his degree from 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 used them often within their establishments 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 well thought out plan for his time with us. Thus, we didn’t maximize the value we could have from him.

We have since developed a solid process for screening and hiring strong interns. Interesting enough, this process has proved so effective that we’ve hired three of the interns part time after their 10 week internship.

A few of the things we learned:

1. Have a clear purpose or project for the interns. Legally you’re not supposed to use interns for administrative tasks – unfortunately, many people do this and the interns don’t gain the learning experience they seek. We actually outline specific projects we have coming up 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.

2. 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 at our university to see who they might recommend.

3. Treat them as team members. We put them through our new employee orientation program, have them read our employee handbook, etc. We want them to understand who we are and what we do so that they understand how each project they work is connected to what we do. We also provide specific outcomes to be achieved over their 10-week internship period. And we always include them in our team building social activities.

4. Meet with them on a regular basis. We meet one-on-one with them weekly to see how their projects are going, what they’re learning, and give them an 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.

Bottom Line

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.

As a side note: Thank you to our graduating interns – Gracie, Sam & Megan – for all that you have contributed to our team! And good luck on your next adventure…

This is another article in a series on Michael’s entrepreneurial story and how being raised in a large family has influenced his career. To read the previous articles in this series, visit his blog at www.Collaboration-llc.com.

Michael Gunther is Founder and President of Collaboration LLC, a team of highly skilled business professionals who are dedicated to assisting proactive business owners to build profitable, sustainable businesses through results-oriented education and consulting services. Learn more at www.Collaboration-llc.com.

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