How to Hire an Intern

I got a call from a friend at the local community college the other day, asking if I would be wiling to interview a student for a potential internship. It’s a bit early in the year for such requests, but I know that it won’t be long before high school and college students will be approaching me about summer work.

No one needs to take on interns, of course, but it can be a rewarding experience for both you and the student. Almost everyone I’ve ever hired as an employee has started as an intern. Internships are great ways to find out if a person will work well with your organization. And especially in the technical fields, interns can provide insights into the future.

If you’re thinking about taking on an intern, here are some questions to consider.

  • Do you have the time, the temperament and the skills needed to supervise and train an intern? Training is an art, not a science. While there is a whole genre of “training for trainers,” most of us know instinctively whether we’re good at translating what we do into simple steps that can be passed on to others. I actually like training people, but it takes patience, and lots of very talented people don’t. If you feel that you won’t be able to convey what you do to someone else, then you probably shouldn’t take on interns.
  • Can you provide a professional work environment? This can definitely be tricky for those who work from their kitchen tables. While my employees all work remotely, this is possible because we’ve worked with each other for a long time. You’ll probably want to supervise an intern in person, at least initially. Which means that you’ll need to give them a workstation and access to the appropriate tools.
  • Can you pay an intern? If not, can you set up a learning situation that will provide valuable experience for the intern? You need to make sure that interns aren’t just free labor.
  • Do you have a task or project that would be suitable to give an intern? Many interns respond positively to being given the responsibility for something that needs to be done. Last summer, an intern at one of my client companies was given the task of going through the company website and finding everything that needed to be updated. He then worked with me to make the changes. This was an excellent learning opportunity for him, as it taught him a lot about the company and about websites, but it was also a finite project that could be completed in the time he had available.

If you’ve answered positively to all of the above, then you’re probably a good candidate for supervising an intern. Here’s what you should do now:

  • Decide how much time the intern should spend with you. I have found that to benefit both the employer and the student, internships should be scheduled to last for at least one academic semester or quarter. The intern should be on-site with you about 8-10 hours a week, at regularly scheduled times.
  • Consider what skills a potential intern will need to work well with you. For web workers, it’s not reasonable to provide basic training on, say, how to use a computer. In my web development company, I prefer interns to have some background in one or more of the following: content creation (writing, editing); graphic design with Photoshop (s adbe); web development (HTML, CSS, Dreamweaver, and possibly frameworks like PHP); and customer service. These days, most students will have some such skills.
  • Write a job description. Even if the position is to be unpaid, you should create a job description that describes the duties to be performed and the skills needed. Here’s a sample; the same page also includes a good introduction to the internship process.
  • Publicize the internship position. You might not have to do much of this; I get approached about internships frequently. But if you let your friends on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn know that an internship is available, you’ll probably have more than enough applicants.
  • Review applications and interview. High school and college students won’t have extensive resumes, of course, but they should be able to show the skills you’re looking for. Some may have portfolios of the work they’ve done, and recommendations from other jobs or volunteer positions. Evaluate the skills and personality of a potential intern to ensure that they fit your needs, and that they’re likely to fit your work style.

I generally enjoy the enthusiasm and ideas that interns bring. With a little patience, you can set up a situation that will benefit both you and the intern, while maybe having a little fun. And in case you’re wondering, I’ve already got interns lined up for this spring and summer.

Do you take on interns? How do you manage them?

Image courtesy U.S. Air Force

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