How to Prepare for, Find and Utilize Rock Star Interns

Being self-employed is fabulous – and fabulously overwhelming! When my business started gaining momentum, I quickly realized there was far too much for me to do on my...

Being self-employed is fabulous – and fabulously overwhelming!  When my business started gaining momentum, I quickly realized there was far too much for me to do on my own.  Sleeping suddenly became a thing of the past and I struggled to keep up with the day-to-day operations while pushing growth forward.  With a minimal start-up budget, I needed to think quickly; calling on my nearly 10 years of HR experience, I decided to launch a search for help … and took a chance on the ubiquitous intern. They’re everywhere – literally.   

The Real World Prerequisite

No matter your industry, students seeking higher education are available community and seeking coveted experience. From non-profit management to a social media apprentices, there is tremendous opportunity for small business owners to tap into the energy and creativity of college students while offering them ‘real-world’ experience — a prerequisite to launching into the crowded job market.   

Internships are often unpaid; in lieu of traditional compensation, students can work with their professors to earn course credits in exchange for their time and contributions.  But wait, before you get out your dry cleaning and vacuum, an intern is NOT a personal assistant.  If you need someone to clean up the office or run errands – an intern is not for you.  Students seek out internships to learn the ins and outs of their discipline.   

Human Capital – Get Ready for it

To get started, create a list of job duties that you need support to complete, including how much time you estimate is needed to complete each task on a weekly basis.  Be methodical about this process, crafting the right list of duties is critical to attracting the right intern and getting the most out of their time with you. It is reasonable to expect a student to provide support anywhere between 10-15 hours per week while they are in school, and up to 40 hours during the summer, if they aren’t taking summer classes.    

With a complete list of job duties, you are ready to draft a position description.  The internet is full of templates to make this as painless as possible. Keep the position description concise and energetic. Think about your audience.  How you describe your business at a local Chamber of Commerce meeting is not the same way you pique the interest of a 20-year-old; put a little flavor on your elevator speech.  To get the most information out of the application package a student submits, I suggest requiring 1) resume, 2) letter of interest (give a word limit or you’ll be reading all day) and 3) transcripts.  Most under-grads won’t have much work experience, but their transcripts give you a good indication of what they’ve been learning and how well they did learning it.   

Locate Rock Star Interns!

 You’re on the home stretch, time to post and begin receiving applications.  I’ve always had the best luck advertising internships with local college career centers.  Surf around the school’s website and you’ll find the online career center, here you can register and upload your position description, free of charge, for students to search.  In addition, many online career centers also allow you to browse resumes and contact students directly; doing so takes some time, but worth it if you find the perfect match.   

Be thorough with the interview process and make sure you find someone accountable and trustworthy. Be patient in your search. Once you find the perfect candidate, you’re ready to make the offer. If your internship is unpaid, you must spell that out in the offer letter. I suggest the following clause, “As we discussed during the interview process, this is a non-paid internship during which you will be expected to provide a minimum of 15 hours per week through August 12, 2011.  This internship is considered an educational opportunity, rather than a job.  As such, your internship will include learning opportunities focused on developing new skills and gaining a deeper understanding of…XYZ”   

Congratulations on adding to your team; enjoy the extra breathing room!   

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