8 Tips for Hiring and Managing Interns
Your business is small. Too small to have a fancy internship program or connections with universities. You may even be located in a town far removed from a school that has a major that fits your business.
You should consider hiring a summer intern anyway. An intern can bring fresh ideas at low cost. Plus, you get the opportunity to help someone else learn how to be a great employee. Here's how to go about it.
Make a clear job description (and stick to it). This is critical for any job recruitment, but especially for interns. If you are planning to offer an unpaid internship, there are strict guidelines you have to meet to qualify, including that your company gets no benefit from the intern. A job description helps you keep within the law. However, my recommendation is that you offer a paid internship. That gives you more flexibility and a wider array of candidates to consider. Plus, it means you can give your intern meaningful projects that help your business.
Be prepared to start at the beginning. Remember your first job? How awkward you were? How you didn't understand the importance of office politics? Don't expect your intern to instinctively know all this stuff. He or she might, but don't count on it. You need to set out very clear guidelines that you don't need for your regular staff. Things such as dress codes, starting times, iPod volume, and TMI conversations should be addressed from the first day. Don't wait until there is a problem.
Give real projects. The point of an internship is to teach someone new how the real business world operates. If you are just having your intern clean the office or sort out the filing cabinet, that's called a summer job. That's also valuable (and I'm not discouraging you from hiring someone to do that), but it's not an internship. Have your intern accompany you on a sales call. Let her do a first draft of a project proposal. Introduce her to clients as, "This is Jane. She's doing an internship with us this summer. She's a student at State University, and we're thrilled to have her." This way, your clients don't expect polished and perfect.
Don't feel obligated to give only interesting tasks. Although you don't want to abandon your intern to the file room, part of work is, well, work, and there are plenty of tedious and boring tasks to go around. As long as you are paying, then it's perfectly OK to expect your intern to spend part of the time doing the boring but necessary things. But the focus should be on things that will help prepare her for the work force.
Give feedback (and lots of it). College students are used to homework assignments, papers, and tests that regularly tell them how they are doing. Saying, "Good job!" isn't the equivalent. Tell your intern precisely what was good and what was not so good about a project. This doesn't mean you turn into a nitpicky micromanager. It just means you make sure your intern knows precisely how she's doing and where she needs to improve.
Consider hiring someone without the best grades. Good grades are good things. But good grades don't tell you everything about the person. Instead, look for someone who loves your field and who has enthusiasm and is likely to want to live in your community in the future. You may find a hidden gem.
Talk about references. Internship managers are going to be the best reference a new grad can find. So, be clear with your intern over what you'll say. If she's been a disaster, let her know that you can't give her a good reference, so she won't list you on her applications. If she's been fantastic, let her know to be sure to use you as a reference. And when giving a reference, don't hold your intern to the same standard you hold your experienced employees.
Consider it your good deed for the year. The job market is tight, especially for people just entering the work force. Internships are a huge help to the new grad. And it's pretty cheap labor for you as well.
SUZANNE LUCAS | Columnist
Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.