Two heads are better than one – how to hire an intern

One of the biggest challenges for small business owners have is not having enough time to do everything that needs to be done.  And initially, not having enough money to recruit someone to fill the gaps.  The solution to this could be hiring an intern. Internship is very popular in other countries and is starting to gain some ground here in the UK.

What is an intern?

An intern is someone who works in your business for little or no money in exchange for skills and experience. Many are college students who are looking to get experience needed for graduation. But some people who are looking for internships have already completed their education, and would like to either gain experience or try to break into a new field. Either of these groups can be a major asset to your small business.

A quick caveat here if you are looking to hire an intern.  It’s extremely important that you hold up your end of the bargain in exchange for the work that the intern is putting in.  An internship is a way for people to gain experience, and you have an obligation to educate and train them.  Also, many interns don’t have much experience (hence the reason they are a cheap resource), so while it is reasonable to ask for a particular skill, many will need guidance from you as they go along.  Interns are a low cost resource in financial terms, but not necessarily time, at least initially.

How to find an intern

Searching for an intern is more difficult than one might imagine.  Finding the right one for your business is just as important as carefully selecting your employees.  And if you’re hiring your intern for a short-term project, it’s especially important to find someone who can jump in and get the job done.

Finding an intern in the UK

1. Approach colleges and universities: It is worth getting in touch with you local colleges and universities career office and speaking to someone there. Quite often they will post positions either on their website or in the office for you.

2. Gumtree – If you’re not familiar with Gumtree, it is worth going to have a look. It is free to advertise most things, but if you want to recruit someone, there is a relatively low cost fee attached to the ad.

3. Intern Town – I just found this website, but it is a place that brings employers and interns together – they also have a handy Q&A section to give employers more information.

4.  Viva Street – This is a graduate job site and it is free to advertise

What to look for in an intern

1.  Enthusiasm – Interns who are enthusiastic about working with your company are more likely to produce good results than those who are just trying to fulfill their college requirements or gain experience any way they can.  Including questions in your interview that pertain to why the candidate wants an internship with your company is a good way to reveal his level of enthusiasm.

2.  Willingness to learn – An intern who already thinks he knows it all probably won’t be much of an asset to your business.  Although he should have some training that relates to the position, he must be willing to learn the skills he needs to complete his project successfully.

3.  Commitment – This one is important for obvious reasons.  Hiring an intern, only to have him leave with the job half done, can put a major strain on your business.  You need someone who is committed to seeing his internship through.

4.  Good communication skills – Interns need to be able to communicate well with others in order to facilitate teamwork.  They also should be able to effectively let you know when they run into problems.  You can get a good feel for a candidate’s communication skills through open-ended interview questions.

5.  Receptiveness to constructive criticism – An intern will not get everything right on the first try, nor should you expect him to.  But he should be able to take constructive criticism, and use it to improve his performance.

6.  Trustworthiness – This is a very important one, especially if the intern will be dealing with sensitive information or company assets.  For these types of positions, it might be worthwhile to utilize personality tests that can reveal potential problems.

7.  Ability to prioritize – Whether your intern is working on a specific project or just helping out around the office, prioritizing tasks is important.  You can provide some structure, but it’s ultimately up to the intern himself to use his time wisely.

8.  Problem solving skills – While it’s important to be there when your interns need you, there’s just not enough time in the day to solve every little problem for them.  They should be able to handle minor problems on their own with little guidance once they’ve been taught the proper procedures.

9.  Adaptability – Your intern may or may not be doing exactly what he had hoped to do in an internship, but he should be able to adapt to a variety of tasks.  The idea is to gain work experience and skills, not to set himself in one certain position for life.  Having an intern who is open to doing various things in your business will make the internship more pleasant and successful for all involved.

10.  An appropriate energy level – High-energy candidates are often the most attractive for business owners seeking interns, but they’re not always the best choice.  High energy works for intense positions, but if your internship opportunity consists of answering phones or making copies all day, high-energy types may become bored quickly.  So it’s very important to find a candidate that has the right type of energy for the job you need done.

4 Replies to “Two heads are better than one – how to hire an intern”

  1. Hi Julie,

    Very useful information. I like it. I am starting a marketing agency to provide services to SMBs online & offline. This info is going to be useful to get some job done. Would be interested to know how you would appraoch the colleges and universities and prove the worthiness for their students to get involved with a startup company like mine?

  2. Sorry. More questions arising… are there any legal/regulatory obligations on pay, expenses, HR related matters? I do not have a premise at the moment… the work will be field based or home based. Can it lead to any issue?

    Regards.

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