Guest Post By Dave Olson, Community Marketing Director of HootSuite.com

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From start-ups to established enterprises, there’s rarely enough time for all the tasks and new initiatives on your list. Investing time to find quality interns can be an ideal solution… if done correctly. If you aren’t prepared to integrate your helper correctly, you’ll end up micro-managing and draining your time – while also demotivating the once-eager intern.

Over 15 years running marketing and community teams I’ve sponsored dozens of internships and along the way, found future employees, ideal collaborators and even a few friends. I’ve also dealt with under-performers and a few disgruntled slackers who can negatively affect your company culture.

From these experiences, I’ve compiled key nuggets of wisdom to help your company reap quality contributions from an intern who truly enjoys their challenging work experience.

Remember, you can’t spell INTERNET without INTERN.

Hire Like an Employee

Post intern openings the same as paid openings with expected qualifications, application process and defined roles. This shows you are taking the search seriously and not just looking for a warm body to do menial tasks. Remove the mystery and set the expectation and you’ll start off right.

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Introduce Loudly

On their first day, introduce them to your team in an email – be sure to include personal interests and previous experience as well as an overview of the sorts of tasks they’ll work on. This helps the intern feel valuable and sends a message to your team to start collaborating right away.

Upfront with Terms

My internships are (almost) always non-paid. Opinions throughout the industry differ on this point, but it’s your choice to make. Just ensure you are clear about the terms from the beginning. If you don’t have budget, let them know and explain the types for benefits they’ll receive from their efforts: Internships are valuable learning experiences and a great way to get a foot in the door of competitive industries.

Give them a Title

Sadly “intern” is sometimes used  as a synonym for “lackey” – this can be de-motivating and even embarrassing for your diligent helper. Instead, bestow a title upon them which describes their role. These titles can be fun but not condescending. At HootSuite, many Interns work on international outreach so we call them International Community Ambassadors. When you introduce them, use their title to show respect for their efforts.

Specific Tasks

While this seems obvious… Assign your padowans specific tasks with meaning and deadlines. By clearly defining to-dos, you not only keep Interns from spending their days on YouTube, but you give them valuable benchmarks of learning and achievement. We use Basecamp to organize tasks for employees and intern to a granular level.

Reports for Accountability

Each Intern should have a weekly report to fill out (I use Google forms which populate a spreadsheet) and measure some empirical evidence of their work as well as providing space for their ideas and insights and a grade their “happiness level.” This process holds them accountable, shows that their work matters and allows you to get in front of any problems whether for work or personal burn out (especially for international interns far from home).

Farm System

Hoot Suite1For start-ups, Interns can fill a critical role to get a product out and promoted on a limited budget. For established companies, they can populate a “farm system” for entry-level employees similar to a sports teams’ minor league affiliate. Interns allow you to cultivate a new batch of talent and “taste test” a number of candidates to see how they react in real-life work situations before committing to a contract.

Coffee is your Job

Do I ever ask interns to fetch me coffee? Almost never. This task is a menial “make work” task for them and (honestly) going for a cup of coffee is one of the best parts of your day. Instead, invite your intern out for a chat over a beverage and everyone wins. Also, make sure they are invited for company events, after-work beer sessions and other “team building” activities – it’ll pay off with passion.

Mentor your Padowan

You are receiving free (or cheap) labor and in exchange, you should share your experience, feedback and inside tips and tactics. Go beyond the simple assignments and take the time to explain the “why” beyond the “what” and “how.” Giving this contextual meaning to their tasks will help them emotionally invest in the project. But don’t coddle– they are humans, not puppies, and your real advice will be of more use than unwarranted compliments.

Part of a Legacy

One by one, Interns come and Interns go, but let your newbs know the legacy they are continuing. We tell stories and share photos of past Interns. For example: one intern left a Danish national soccer team jersey as a gift. Now, this is awarded to the Intern who has shown “heart and soul and tenacity” for the week and is handed off by one recipient to the next… Make an intern hall of fame gallery to connect the people to one another and you may find they end up as virtual friends.

Overwhelm (& Support)

From day one, give them a list of tasks. They won’t gravitate or complete all of them but you’ll quickly learn where their skills are. Make sure they know how to get help from others and at what point to come to you for assistance – without bothering you. Schedule :15 catchup sessions to avoid slow downs.

Lackey Work

Hootsuite3I promise each new recruit that every task I assign to them is something I’ve done many times before – from stuffing envelopes to assembling desks, the jobs might sound mundane but if they know you’ve done the boring stuff too, they’ll understand it’s all part of the process and culture of a start-up.

Parting Gift

Since your Interns are non-paid, you want to ensure you provide some career assistance when they need it. This starts with a Linkedin recommendation and well-thought-out letter. Plus send a Tweet publicly to thank them and recommend them to other companies and offer yourself as a reference for jobs.

Field Trips

If someone really stepped up, introduce them to industry peers, either by email or by bringing them along to speaking gigs so they can make an impression in person. Tip: Start-up accelerators and incubators with newly funded companies are a great next step for your star Interns seeking work.

Keep in Touch

Remember each intern comes from a unique background and you can (and should) help elevate and fast-track them into the job world. Follow their career with interest once they are gone and invite them back for a coffee or office party.

Author Notes:

Twitter: @daveohoots
Linkedin: /daveo
Bio & headshot: http://ow.ly/2yFws

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