Let’s answer a few questions, shall we? It’ll be fun.
Do you offer an internship through your business?
Do you know why?
If you answered “No,” or even better, “I don’t know” to either of those, never fear. You probably already know that poorly organized internships are a waste of time for everybody: The intern doesn’t learn much, and the business isn’t utilizing the new talent. The good news is that it’s not hard to level up your internship into a program that makes the most of talented people serious about their careers.
What does your application process say about your internship?
First impressions matter, y’all. So how do your internship applicants find you? Word of mouth? A Tweeted link to a job description on your site?
As it turns out, Kevin and Ben had two completely different experiences. Kevin, our development intern, met a Flywheel founder at a conference. His interview process was low-key. “It was super informal,” Kevin said. “‘Hey, you should come hang out and just talk.’”
Spreading the word through your network can be a quick way to cut to the chase. Let your community know what you’re looking for in an intern’s skill set, and chances are they can help you pinpoint the right person.
On the other hand, casting a wider net can bring applicants to your door that you’d never find otherwise. Ben, our marketing intern, found us through social media. Something must have looked cool, because he changed his summer plans and went through a slightly more formal process, including a survey and an over-dressed interview.
Are you being clear about what your interns will be doing?
It’s difficult to really know what a job will entail before you get right into it. Still, try to spell out your expectations of the internship early on.
“I wasn’t expecting to be writing as much as I am,” Ben said. “At all.”
Well. Sorry, Ben. What were you expecting?
“I was kind of expecting, oh, to put together some list posts or snippets or do social media or film videos. But I really appreciate this opportunity to improve my writing, even though it’s been more challenging.”
Nice save, Ben.
“I wasn’t expecting to build the status board,” Kevin said. The application tracks support tickets, who’s assigned to what, shows who’s on call after hours, and customer satisfaction ratings. “It was really good at teaching how to go through a full Ruby application. So it was good to do, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to do that right at the beginning of the summer.”
We appreciate it, Kevin. Our CTO Tony has only been talking about building it for six years.
Are your top people available to your interns?
Depending on the size of your business, you may or may not be on the top rung of the hierarchy. No matter who’s there, they need to be present to your interns.
“I think at bigger places, it’s important that the bigger people are present and helping,” Ben said. “All of the founders are just super available. ‘Hey you should do this differently,’ or ‘hey, this is better,’ or ‘how are you doing today?’ It’s really cool to have that influence.”
“Having a team of interns doesn’t work, in my experience,” Kevin said. “You really have to be part of the regular team.”
So get your interns on teams with your regular pros. But don’t forget about the extra instruction they’ll need. “It’s been nice because the dev team has been good with communication,” Kevin added. “‘You’re part of the team, but we know you don’t know anything.’”
Are you teaching them they have to fight for feedback?
Along with the extra instruction during projects, don’t forget about intentional feedback afterward. Scheduled reviews are often the first meetings to get deleted when the calendar gets full, but they’re invaluable for someone learning the ropes. Bonus: If you’re paying close attention to their growth, you can throw them new assignments with confidence.
“It’s something that, when it happens, it’s good stuff,” Kevin said. “Just knowing where you are.”
“I think about 40 percent of my first long-form post was sent back for a rewrite,” Ben recalled. “But it wasn’t awful. It made me feel not downtrodden upon.”
Well. There’s always room for improvement on both sides.
Are you showing them options to consider about their future careers?
By definition, interns are very much in learning mode. Their professional experience is usually on the light side, so they may not know all the possibilities of their chosen discipline. Make sure they know what their future options are.
Both Kevin and Ben said they’re intrigued by entrepreneurship, a curiosity enhanced by working at a tech startup. “It’s reaffirming that this is something I’m going to do,” Kevin said. “Maybe something with server monitoring for smaller ecommerce sites.”
“I want to start a subscription service for cat toys,” Ben said. “I’m totally kidding, I have no idea.”
Is there enough to learn at your company that your interns would stay given the chance?
It can definitely be valuable for students to try their hands at multiple internships. Switching companies is a great way to learn about new tools and new processes.
But if you’ve found a rockstar, maybe you’d like to entice them to stay on. Give those people reasons to stick around.
Kevin gains +1 to programming.
“I’ve been realizing that working at a small company means you get to use and abuse technology as much as you want,” Ben said. “If you decide that you want something to happen, you can have a conversation with someone and make it happen. As opposed to waiting six months to get a font installed.”
Another plus, he added, is that he can see immediate results from projects that he collaborates on with others. “The work we’re doing has real impact. You can make a status board,” he said, gesturing to Kevin, “and everyone automatically uses it.”
“Until it crashes,” Kevin said.
And finally. Pay your interns.
Why? You’re adding to their training, right? You’re teaching them, right? Why would you pay for an employee you have to train?
Ah. Right there. Interns are employees. They’ll be logging hours and producing work to benefit your business.
Plus, if you’re invested financially in your internship program, it’ll be easier to prioritize its growth. Trust us, that’s to your benefit. An organized, intentional, useful internship that’s focused on building on someone’s education will never fail to attract talent.