Ask Inc.: Launching an Internship Program
Q I run a one-person jewelry design business, and I'd like to bring on an intern to help me. Where should I look, and how do I ensure the internship is mutually beneficial?
Payson F. Cooper
New York City
A: Have you seen the unemployment figures? Open your window, stretch out your arm, and pluck an eager candidate from a branch of the nearest tree.
OK, maybe you're a mite choosier. Top internship candidates are, too. "Some students shy away from businesses whose names they don't recognize," says C. Mason Gates, president of Internships.com, a service that matches interns with employers. Fortunately, you have another selling point: namely, the wonder that is you. Tempt candidates with the chance to labor shoulder to shoulder with a real, live, am-I-crazy-for-trying-this entrepreneur. The career centers of local colleges -- especially those with entrepreneurship programs -- can identify candidates willing to share someone else's dream in preparation for pursuing their own. "We have a fair number of students who are hoping to start their own business," says Roxanne Hori, director of the Career Management Center at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.
Emphasize, too, that the smaller the business, the greater the responsibility. "In a one-person shop, the student is going to learn a lot," says Gates. "If it's a marketing internship, he or she is the de facto vice president of marketing." But that's not an invitation to overload. Instead, Gates advises assigning your intern one really meaty project, such as launching an e-mail marketing campaign or stirring up buzz on social networks. Schedule frequent check-ins to make sure the intern isn't lost or bored silly.
You should also keep in mind that intern and free labor are not synonymous. Unless your intern receives college credit, you must pay minimum wage: So sayeth the Department of Labor. But even when the internship counts toward a degree, paying a small wage can make the gig more attractive.
If at internship's end your Mini Me decides not to become a Mini You, don't take it personally. The entrepreneur's road is hard and lonely. Not everyone can follow. Hori tells of one student who thought she wanted to go the start-up route until she interned at a small company. Afterward, Hori says, "she came to me and said, 'It was a phenomenal experience. Now I know I don't want to run my own company.' " Her teacher should be proud.