While they might be industry newcomers, interns can be a huge advantage for small businesses. High school and college students, recent graduates and professionals shifting career paths can lend fresh thinking, new energy and an extra set of hands to the daily hustle of running a small business.
Keep reading to learn how to find an intern for your business, where to look for candidates and how to design a competitive internship program.
What is an intern?
Interns are developing professionals dedicated to gaining experience in their chosen career field. While most interns are college students, they can also be high school students or adults making a career shift or pursuing a higher education degree. Internship programs offer hands-on experience, industry connections and, sometimes, college credit.1
What value do interns bring to small businesses?
More than an errand-runner and an order-taker, the right intern, supported by a well-structured program, can bring great value to a small business.
As noted by The Balance, “Companies that offer internships can establish or grow their connections with universities and colleges, increasing their visibility on campuses and ability to recruit other students. Internships can also promote community involvement and presence through teaching the prospective workforce and having an impact.”2
Forbes also notes that “introducing an intern to different parts of your business will actually allow you to get unbiased, out-of-the-box feedback in vital areas like training, onboarding and efficiencies.”3
What’s more, local communities often take notice of small businesses that are invested in the next generation of leaders. Building an effective internship program can help you not only in the day-to-day hustle but also in your long-term reputation and growth.
How to hire an intern
When finding an intern, Small Business Chronicle recommends beginning by making a list of all the tasks and responsibilities you plan to hand off. If you are advertising on high school and college campuses, this list can provide criteria to help narrow your school search. For example, a list of operations or finance responsibilities could merit attending a business school’s job fair.
Next, use your list to craft the job posting. Just as you would for a permanent position, describe your business, what sets it apart and any perks you may offer. Make sure to include whether students are eligible for compensation and whether the internship could develop into a full-time position. If you are open to working with the student to fulfill any college credit requirements (e.g., signing off on time sheets, providing a reference, etc.) their school offers, be sure to state that as well.4
Where to post your internship
In addition to traditional job-posting sites such as LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster and Glassdoor, consider intern-specific sites such as InternMatch, Chegg Internships, Idealist and InternQueen.
Remember that you might not need to limit yourself to the local talent pool. With the rise of remote work, you might want to consider broadening your virtual search and hiring a remote intern.
While job-posting sites often charge a fee, explore ways to work your built-in networks, such as local small-business organizations and your own social media.
For example, if you have an existing program, post headshots and testimonials from previous interns on your social media channels. You can also attend job fairs on nearby campuses and post ads on universities’ virtual job boards.
Interviewing and qualifications
Because interns likely do not have the on-the-job experience or professional skill set of a more seasoned employee, it’s even more important to seek out soft skills that align with your business. Interviewing for qualities such as reliability, resilience, problem-solving, collaboration and curiosity is key.5 Asking “why” and “what” questions will help you better understand their personality and how their behavioral habits translate to the workplace.6
Consider the following questions as part of your intern hiring process7,8:
- Why did you choose your major? What are you most passionate about in this field?
- What excites you about this industry? What new ideas do you hope you can bring to life?
- Tell me about a time you faced a conflict, whether in sports, in school or a past job. How did you navigate it? What was the outcome?
- Do you prefer working by yourself or on a team?
- How do you like to receive feedback?
- What do you think makes a good mentor? What would you hope to learn from your mentor during your internship?
- Describe a project or accomplishment that you’re most proud of.
- We’re a small business where everyone wears a lot of hats. Talk about a time you had to learn a brand-new skill.
Best practices for an internship program
Building a successful internship program is a great way to find even better applicants in the future. To shape an impactful program, create a thoughtful structure that will challenge your new short-term team member, provide mentorship and, if possible, offer pay.
Worthwhile internship programs go beyond administrative tasks and coffee runs. To ensure dedicated oversight, assign an internship coordinator who can work with the interns to set goals, learn the ins and outs of your business, grow as a professional and develop projects to execute.9
A structured internship program should include goals, checkpoints and at least one long-term project that makes a tangible business impact. The coordinator should also foster strong daily communication, give interns permission to fail and encourage curiosity.10
The era of unpaid internships is over. The market for high-performing interns can be competitive and one way to make sure you’re in the game is to offer compensation. In some cases, unpaid internships can even go against the Fair Labor Standards Act. Check with the U.S. Department of Labor and your local state laws to see if your business is exempt before recruiting for an unpaid internship.11
Finally, assign each intern a mentor who can provide career advice, hold regular touch-bases and be their go-to person to help them grow personally and professionally.
A nurturing mentor relationship will not only benefit the intern but will also yield better results for your business (and potentially lead to a full-time employee). A good mentor provides consistent feedback along the way, answers questions and cares on a personal level about the intern’s success and growth.12
Helping your small business succeed
Hiring an intern is just one way to help your business succeed. Learn more ways to grow your business in the Learning Center.