How to Find the Ideal Intern for Your Small Business

While it’s true that an intern can provide your business with an extra set of eyes and ears and hands, they don’t necessarily come free− and they don’t come without a little work on your part.

That’s why we’ve compiled this handy how-to guide about finding an intern that’s right for your company. Below, Megan Green of Stinkybomb Soap and Wolf Starr of the Small Business Beanstalk −two business owners who regularly take on interns− and David Cofer −president and CEO of Cofer Consulting Solutions LLC, which specializes in attracting, developing and retaining young professionals− offer simple advice designed to help you present your company and your expectations, and conduct the most thorough search possible.

1. Be clear about what your internship is and isn’t

Start with a well documented description, as it is the building block of the internship.

When advertising your internship, Cofer says it’s critical to list the behaviors and characteristics you seek in an intern, as well as the basic requirements of the position. Starr also recommends being upfront about the internship’s duration and whether it is paid, unpaid, and/or qualifies for college credit.

“Our standard tagline is that we can’t pay anything, but they’ll get more perks than Elvis,” says Starr.

2. Make your business stand out

Business owners need to remember they are promoting their organizations as much as the actual internship opportunity.

“This is especially true with smaller employers,” says Cofer. “Their name may not be recognizable, so they need to convey something in an ad that speaks to the reader and leaves them with a sense of ‘I think I may want to work there, even though I’ve never heard of them.’ ”

3. Advertise online

That’s not to say that print advertisements aren’t viable options or that talking to high school guidance counselors and college advisers isn’t a useful method for obtaining leads. However, all three experts we talked to have successfully used online ads.

Simply put, online advertising helps you get your opportunity in front of a much larger group of potentially interested candidates, Cofer says.

4. Pre-screen candidates

Instead of interviewing every applicant, weed out those who are unable to comply with the basics of the internship, such as the start/end dates, location, work hours, and salary.

“You may find a great candidate, but if their class schedule prevents them from taking the job, it certainly isn’t worth wasting their time or yours with an in-person interview,” Cofer says.

He highly recommends phone screens, but Green relies on electronic communication.

“I tend to do my initial contact by email,” she says. “I’ll ask them for more detailed information and for their background, how and why they think they would be a good fit within my organization. Then once I have felt them out on paper, I have a meet-and-greet at a local coffee shop.”

Starr uses a different screening process altogether.

“Our current interns post our new intern ads, review the resumes, and often do the first phone interview before the application arrives on my desk,” he says. “This helps us to ensure the cycle continues.”

5. Be consistent when questioning candidates

Interviews for interns should be standardized, as you are considering someone for the same job and each candidate is probably at, or near, the same place with respect to skills and experience, Cofer says.

Also, give the interview process thought in advance.

“Don’t make it up as you go,” he says. “Don’t forget to ask questions that elicit answers related to both the technical knowledge of the candidate as well as their ability to exhibit and demonstrate the skills, behaviors, and characteristics you seek.”

6. Make sure the candidate fits your company’s culture

Every company is different. Therefore a one-size-fits-all mentality is not the name of the game.

For a considerable period of time, Green worked out of her home and has small children, so she always made sure candidates were comfortable with kids. Starr prides himself on not having a staid office environment at the SBB, which means candidates who prefer more traditional workplaces might not be a good fit.

“We like to push the interns and make them leave their comfort zones, while keeping things fun and interesting,” he says.

A business owner may find a candidate who has all the right technical skills, but doesn’t possess the behaviors and characteristics valued by their organization, which can end up being problematic.

“Their lack of fit will soon supersede their technical skills,” Cofer says. “This will likely result in a less than desirable situation for both intern and employer.”

7. Remember that an intern is not “free labor”

“In most college internships, the student is looking for something in their area or their chosen field,” Green says, adding that there must be something gained and given on both ends of the employer-intern relationship.

“For instance, I was very lucky to find a talented photography student from Columbus College of Art & Design as my first intern,” she says. “We worked out an arrangement where she spent half of her time creating product shots of all my soaps. The other half of the time she worked directly next to me, creating and packaging soap for all my day-to-day needs. She was able to specialize in her field and add to her growing portfolio. I, in return, gained the production assistance I needed and received studio grade product shots, which I was able to use for my own needs.”

Starr also noted the need for reciprocity, saying, “We find jobs for some and we build resumes for others. The relationships have to be symbiotic. We only let someone join our organization if we can teach them and they can teach us.”