15 months after I started Rough Draft Solutions, I hired my first two interns. Since then, I have had five interns and each one has taught me important lessons, helped me grow as a leader, and pushed RDS forward.
While I never imagined I would hire interns so quickly, I’ve wanted to have an intern program ever since I interned for a one-woman marketing consulting firm in college. My boss was fantastic and gave me the freedom to work on client projects, do my own research, and experience firsthand what the marketing world is all about.
It was during my internship that I decided I wanted to have my own business someday. The confidence and knowledge I gained while being an intern are responsible for shaping my career. I loved the idea of being able to give back and create a similar experience for others in the future.
With that being said, if you are feeling burdened by a heavy workload, are interested in teaching others, and are striving to take your business to the next level, hiring an intern may be the right option for you.
Bringing on an intern is the perfect step if you want to grow your business, but aren’t quite ready to hire a full-time employee. All my interns have been hired as independent contractors and on a part-time basis. While we won’t get into the nitty-gritty details of the hiring process, I do want to share a few key elements of creating an internship to boost your business.
1. Understand what type of help you need
To hand-off work to an intern, you must completely understand each of your clients and their projects. You can’t expect an intern to understand everything right away, but if you are organized and give clear instructions to help them understand what you need, they will catch on quickly.
Determine which tasks you can delegate
There will be certain tasks you feel like you can delegate and others you have to take care of yourself. Analyze your project list and depending on difficulty, time, and relevance, create a list of tasks you feel an intern could succeed at. In the beginning, it’s okay to assign simpler tasks to get them into the swing of things. However, later on, it's important to trust your intern and to challenge them. If there is a project that is more challenging, but you have time to help them through it, allow it to be a learning experience and a task that makes them feel proud and accomplished (even if it was a little bit of a rocky road).
Consider which responsibilities will help the intern grow
The potential an intern has to grow while helping you is endless. In the beginning, I like to ease my interns into a routine and then continue to build their task list as they gain confidence and familiarity with my processes and standards. For instance, the first week of the internship may include simpler tasks such as editing a blog post or scanning over current social media and brainstorming ideas on how to improve. As they learn, more responsibilities that push them outside of their comfort zone will help the intern grow. For example, after a few weeks, I usually give my interns an opportunity to start writing blog and social media posts. I’ve found that the more you challenge and trust them, and the more they’re willing to take on, the more they will grow.
Decide how much work you can provide on a consistent basis
How busy are you? Do you find yourself working day in and day out or do you have quite a bit of time on your hands? How much work do you have forecasted for the next several months? This is especially important to think about when bringing in an intern. You must think about the actual amount of work to be done, but also how much money you can afford to pay an intern. My interns have always been part time and work between 5-10 hours per week (depending on the workload). The last thing you want to do is hire one or two interns and then not have enough work to keep them busy.
2. Make a list of skills and knowledge the intern needs to have
One of the biggest mistakes I see business owners making when they hire an intern is choosing someone not equipped to succeed. You must be specific and intentional when you add someone to your team. To find the right candidate, you must first understand your biggest priorities and needs. This is not the time to be wishy-washy. Be specific, think about your pain points, and hire someone who has the skills to add value to your team! I specifically look for people skilled in design and social media - two areas I struggle with!
Determine what skills/knowledge the intern needs to have
Take a look at your project list and ask yourself, what special skills and knowledge do I need my intern to have? This could range from graphic design, social media, and SEO skills to being masters at writing and editing. Make sure these are clear (and realistic) in your job description. If you know exactly what you need and are looking for, the chances of finding the right fit for your business is higher. Be sure to ask questions during the interview about those specific skills and ask for examples of the work they have done.
Outline expectations to attract the right candidates
When you are planning, creating your job listing, and interviewing candidates, you must clearly outline your expectations. The last thing you want is to start an internship with unclear expectations or miscommunication. Laying out your expectations (quality of work, timeliness, communication, etc.) will also help attract the right candidate. If a potential intern reads through your expectations and thinks they may not be able to handle that much responsibility or don’t obtain certain skills, then they are going to move on and not waste your time (which we all know we could use more of!).
3. Brainstorm how you want the internship to work
No, figuring out logistics is never fun, but it is important. Nitty gritty details like if this is an in-person or remote internship and what your onboarding expectations are will help the hiring process go more smoothly. Again, I am someone who prefers to be over prepared, but this will help you and the intern have a positive experience when getting started. Remember, you’re the boss - so make these decisions wisely and stick to them!
Decide if the internship will be in-person or remote
Imagine yourself adding someone to your team. Now imagine your ideal employee - do you want that person with you in the office five days a week? Can they work from home? Do they have a specific schedule or do they have the freedom to create their own work schedule? These are all decisions to make, but none are right or wrong. It depends on what you prefer and what will work best for your business.
At RDS, my interns have always worked remotely. We all are able to work from the comfort of our own home or camp out at a coffee shop. Every Monday morning, a team chat allows us to catch up on life, go over the content calendar, ask questions, and make sure we are all set for the projects and deadlines that week. Given that we are all based in different locations throughout Michigan (and sometimes the Midwest), this is necessary!
Understand your management style
When it comes to interns, you can give them the freedom to come up with their own ideas and just go for it or you can insist on holding their hand and be involved with their every move. Of course, ideally, you would balance these approaches - offering some guidance, but also giving them the freedom to spread their wings.
Keep in mind that there are certain projects that may need a little extra involvement or help, but one of the big reasons for hiring an intern is to delegate and have less to do! For the most part, I love handing the reins off to my interns and letting them go. I trust that they are responsible, creative, and able to overcome challenges. During the interview process, I always ask my interns what type of management style they prefer. If they are someone who really prefers hands-on management 100% of the time, it probably isn’t a good fit for RDS.
4. Have a thorough interview process
Business owners who complain because their interns are causing trouble or are “more work than they are worth” most likely did not have a thorough interview process. While no one wants to have a complex or lengthy interview process, it is important to do your due diligence. This is the time to find out if someone is a good fit or not! No, the interview process won’t save you from NEVER hiring the wrong person, but it can certainly help!
Write a clear job description
The first step in hiring the right intern is to write a clear job description. Don’t worry if you feel as though you are being too particular! If you want a specific GPA, major, or year in school, say so! Just be careful not to be unrealistic. Clearly listing which programs interns must be experienced with will help you weed through applicants.
Let people know about the internship opportunity
Getting the word out that you are looking to hire an intern is equally as important as writing a good job description. Obviously, if people don’t know you’re hiring, you won’t get a quality pool of applicants! Post that you are looking for an intern on school boards and social media platforms, and reach out to business friends and contacts.The more you market, the more likely you will discover the right intern. All of my interns were found or found me through school boards or word of mouth, so exploring all options is crucial.
Give yourself enough time to conduct interviews
While going through the interview process to find an intern, I have done a mixture of phone and in-person interviews. No matter what you decide to go with, make sure to give yourself enough time to conduct them (Especially if you have a handful of quality candidates!). If possible and if time is on your side, first have phone interviews with potential applicants and then in person interviews for a few of the standouts. Ask for writing samples or a portfolio - the more you get to know a person and their work before they join your team the better!
Ask interns to do a few relevant exercises
Before bringing an intern on board, ask the top candidates to accomplish a few relevant exercises. In the past, I have had interns write a blog post or edit a piece of content. This way you can see what their work is like (and how they follow instructions and meet deadlines) before they jump in and start the ball rolling on your projects. Based on conversations with other business owners, this step is crucial in finding high-quality interns. You may love someone’s personality on the phone and they may look great on paper, but if they can’t follow instructions or meet deadlines, they probably are not a great fit.
Trust your gut
During the interview process, is someone really sticking in your mind? Did you have a phone interview that flowed and seemed as though you were talking to someone you've known for years? If you answer yes to these questions, chances are you may have found the right fit. Making a personal connection with someone is a good thing! Always trust your gut. If you have a weird feeling about something, it’s probably not the right person for you, but if you feel excited and want the person to start tomorrow, then have confidence in your intuition (After they’ve met all of the other requirements, of course!)
5. Once hired, follow through with expectations and provide clear feedback
Your work is definitely not over once you have found the right intern. Being consistent with expectations and providing feedback on how your intern is doing will keep you both happy. Open communication will help you address any issues that come up and positive feedback will encourage your intern to keep doing what they’re doing.
Follow through with expectations and communicate openly
Everyone wants to know if they are doing a good job or if they need to make improvements, especially early on in an internship. That is why it's not only important to set expectations up front, but also essential to provide feedback, encouragement, and constructive criticism. Having open and honest communication with your intern will help build a strong relationship and create an internship that will boost your success, so start doing this from the first day on!
Address mistakes and provide guidance
Interns will make mistakes and you have to be okay with that. Let them know if they do and explain why, then guide them on how to fix it or how to do a better job next time. The majority of interns are eager to learn and to improve, therefore they want to know when something isn't done right. Show them how to make improvements and fixes instead of just fixing it and not telling them - they need to be able to learn and grow!
Ask for feedback
Not only do you want to provide feedback, but it is beneficial to ask your intern for their feedback too. Throughout the internship, take the time to ask how you can make the intern program more valuable. Ask them what they have liked and what they have not, what they have gained from their experience, and anything they wish they could have learned more of. Give them an opportunity to honestly tell you how you could be a better manager!
Take feedback and criticism in a professional manner
You must not ask for feedback and then be offended if you hear some negative comments. You are most likely not the perfect boss and have some growing to do as well! Hearing honest feedback will only make you and your business better, especially if you plan to create more internship opportunities in the future. Remember, your intern does not mean any harm, they are responding to your request for feedback and likely want to see you and your business excel.
Handle any problems without emotion
Problems are bound to happen. I mean who are we kidding? As business owners, there will be peaks and valleys of success and struggle - especially when multiple people are involved! But that is perfectly fine! If problems rise to the surface during an internship, handle them without emotion. Your job is to be the leader. If things aren't working out as expected, take care of it with consideration and honesty.
When adding an intern to your team, there is a lot to consider. But after working with five talented interns, I can honestly say that they have helped me grow Rough Draft Solutions and have pushed me forward in my career. I firmly believe that by lifting others up and giving them opportunities to learn, make mistakes, and discover their passions, we are laying the groundwork for the next generation. So as you jump into planning and interviewing for your internship, be organized, do some research, and follow through! If you have any questions about my experience creating internships that have boosted my business, let me know
I’m curious, have you hired an intern? What was your experience like? Or, if you’re contemplating hiring an intern, what questions do you have? Comment below!