In our four-part series on student internships, Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) members explore the benefits, pitfalls, best practices and methods for engaging the next generation of students to build a successful student internship program.
As an entrepreneur, you've probably considered hiring a summer intern, realizing the potential impact of helping enthusiastic students gain invaluable real-world experience as they learn about office dynamics, relationships with coworkers, business challenges and teamwork. While it's a benefit to the intern, we want to highlight the benefits to your business.
"While we started hiring interns to 'pay it forward' for the internships that I had back in the 1990s, it seems that while the interns learn and benefit from us, we are learning and gaining from them as well. Our 2017 interns just started, and I am probably more excited than they are," said Morris Tabush, President and Founder of Tabush Group.
We polled our entrepreneurs and asked them to share their experiences with student interns. Here's what they had to say.
1. Infuse Enthusiasm and Fresh Perspective
Student interns inject energy into an office setting, bringing creativity and enthusiasm that tenured employees may lack―and it's definitely contagious.
"Our interns are members of Generation Z, which gives leadership a glimpse into this important cohort, aged 6 to 21, who will soon become primary purchase influencers and decision makers. I feel like they give us an edge in designing research and strategy projects for clients who pursue branding and marketing programs targeting this audience," explained Deb Gabor, founder and CEO of Sol Marketing.
"Interns are on the leading edge in their chosen area of study. I love that their questions often help us identify process gaps―and they have awesome suggestions on how to mediate them. Interns bring a new perspective on how they view their workplace culture and let us know what's working and what isn't―because we ask! We've streamlined processes based on feedback as it relates to onboarding and even our client deliverables," said Jay Feitlinger, CEO of StringCan Interactive.
"Interns offer a fresh perspective on things that have become 'automatic' to us. Our interns have solved problems we didn't even know existed; asked questions about our services, processes and clients which were very thought-provoking; and helped us improve parts of our business," added Morris Tabush.
2. Provide Management Experience to Current Employees
One unsung benefit of interns is the opportunity for current employees to test their management abilities.
"We love how interns give up-and-coming permanent employees the ability to manage a team member and mentor them. There isn't a single team member, even our C-level staff, that isn't benefiting from our internship program," Jay Feitlinger continued.
"Our mentoring program has afforded staff the opportunity to act in a leadership role and has encouraged greater participation in our programs. Our mentors have been motivated to improve their own work by personal skill development," stated Jessica Moseley, CEO of TCS Interpreting.
3. Solve Specific Problems
Most students today are digital natives with insights that can be extremely valuable in a business setting. Consider which departments might most benefit from their skills when assigning interns.
"Utilize the advanced computer skills that most college students have, which can be a great way to automate tasks. For an internship to be a win for everyone, the intern should finish with some new knowledge and experiences and the company should get some deliverables that help the business," said Andrew Tupler, CEO of Tupler Financial.
"One unique way we've utilized interns to solve specific problems is to hire intellectual property students from the local law school to help with trademark and copyright enforcement on the Internet. It's very expensive to have our law firm send cease and desist notices, so we hire interns to do trademark research and send out basic notices letting people know they are infringing on our trademarks. This has been a very successful program, and saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees over the years. The interns love it because they get to see how the law works in a real business, not just classroom theory," said Jeremy Brandt, CEO of We Buy Houses®.
4. Develop the Ultimate Recruiting Channel
You test drive a car before you buy―so why not utilize internships as a test drive for how a potential future employee might fit into and enhance your organization? As RJ Lewis, CEO of eHealthcare Solutions puts it, "We find an internship to be a great mutual extended interview."
"I've hired from internships more than from any other source. I interview interns as if they are full-time employees. If I don't think they'll stay after an internship, I don't hire them. I expect to do a ton of training―but it can be worth it. One intern advanced from part-time assistant to full-time assistant to office manager, and finally Test Kitchen Director during her seven years here," explained Devin Alexander, celebrity chef and CEO of Devin Alexander, Inc.
"We finally realized the true objective: make interns evangelists for the firm. If we made their journey with us something that they truly appreciated and enjoyed, they would tell friends, 'I did an internship with the coolest agency this summer―the people were kind and patient; I was able to sit in on client meetings; I helped at a trade show―you'd be crazy not to apply there!' That's the payoff. For recruiting purposes alone, it's a great investment to have interns," stated Tim Padgett, founder and CEO of Pepper Group.
"Our intern program is the primary way we recruit for entry-level positions. It gives both the intern and the company an opportunity to 'try before you buy.' It disaster-proofs the hiring and onboarding process by ensuring there's both a cultural and job role fit in a low-risk environment," added Deb Gabor.
Above all, when considering hiring student interns, think how you might be impacting the future by inspiring the entrepreneurial spirit in the next generation.
"Through these programs, you may be setting up a student to go on and start their own business that may change the world. Either way, you're opening up possibilities for those of the next generation to find a path to success," said Joshua Simon, CEO of SimonCRE.
Inspiring the next generation: What could be more rewarding than that?