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Ask Doug & Polly: Interns can benefit your business, but provide an experience that is beneficial
Ask Doug & Polly

Ask Doug & Polly: Interns can benefit your business, but provide an experience that is beneficial

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Doug & Polly White

QUESTION: My small business has agreed to accept a summer intern from a local college. I want to make sure that she has a good experience. Do you have any advice?

ANSWER: We appreciate your desire to give your intern a good experience. Too many companies view interns as reduced cost labor and set them to work performing the most menial of duties without regard for the value the intern receives from the experience.

Interns can benefit your business. They can be a low cost way of getting real work done. They can also be a pipeline of talent for your company.

However, we believe that you have an obligation to provide an experience that is beneficial for the student.

Ensuring your intern receives full value will require some effort on your part.

Following the six tips below will give you a good start on providing a wonderful internship experience:

Define a clear project that can be completed during the internship

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  • When possible, we like to define a discrete project that the intern can see from start to finish.

Make sure that the project is germane to your business. Remember, a significant part of the value an intern gains is a clear understanding of what it is like to work in your industry.

Identify measurements for success

  • : As with managing any other employee, develop objective, quantifiable goals. Make sure that the goals are achievable with effort.

It doesn’t help to have goals that require little effort to achieve or goals that cannot be realistically obtained.

Spend time helping the intern succeed

  • : You wouldn’t expect a new employee to succeed without training, supervision and coaching.

Creating a positive experience for your intern will require at least the same level of effort.

If your intern can succeed without your help, she won’t learn much. The task is too simple. To create a robust experience for your intern, you’ll have to invest in her.

Broader exposure to your business

  • : Make sure that your intern gets full exposure to your business.

One of the big pieces of value your intern will receive is a good understanding of what it is like to work in your industry.

She may decide that your line of work isn’t for her or she might decide to make a career of it. Help her reach that conclusion by helping her understand your business.

Take time to explain your company’s core values and your strategy for delivering value to your customers.

We also suggest spending time learning about your intern. Find out her goals and aspirations.

Assess how well you think she would fit with your company.

While you have no obligation, you may wish to make her an offer of employment once the internship ends.

Interns are an excellent source of new employees because you have a chance to see them work before you make the hiring decision. Make sure you have assessed her fit with your firm.

Prepare your intern for success beyond your firm:

  • In many cases your intern will not join your company when the internship concludes.

Perhaps you have no open positions. Perhaps she has decided this industry isn’t for her or maybe you have determined that she wouldn’t be a good fit.

Regardless of the reason, prepare your intern for success once she leaves.

You review resumes often. Help your intern get her resume into good shape. Show her how to add the experience she gained through your internship to her resume.

If you can say positive things, offer to serve as a reference or write a letter of recommendation. Make your internship as valuable for her as you can.

Give candid feedback

  • : Like every employee your intern will have demonstrated some strengths and some opportunities for improvement.

Help her to grow by providing kind, but candid, feedback on her performance. In some cases, this is the most valuable thing an intern takes away from their experience.

Doug and Polly White have a large ownership stake in Gather, a company that designs, builds and operates collaborative workspaces. Polly’s focus is on human resources, people management and human systems. Doug’s areas of expertise are business strategy, operations and finance.


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