Finding Great Interns for Your Business

Internships: a symbiotic relationship helping to launch young adults into successful careers, or an exploitation of free labor?

The answer, much to the distress of everyone wanting an answer, probably depends. And, to further enrage you, won’t really be covered at all in this article. (If you’re bent out of shape about that, some simple Googling should quickly find you dozens of people that support your view.)

Philosophical debates aside, we’ve had a longstanding internship program here at Southern Growth Studio, and to our knowledge it’s been a fantastic experience for both our company and the young folks we work with. (Yes, we do pay them.)

We’ve now worked with dozens of interns for months at a time, and while most are a huge source of help and productivity, occasionally we’ve mistepped into hiring someone that’s actually a drag on our business. Consider the following when bringing on someone new for an internship:

More time in the office is better. Interns are working with you to learn and gain experience, and while time in office might not make much of a difference on their future resume, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to dive too deeply into anything working only five hours per week with you. By the same token, if an intern is going to become a useful team member, they need to be with you enough to get over the “training bumps” that come along with catching someone up to speed.

Ask about management preferences on the front end. We always like to think of our interns as people, and people are notorious for their inability to conform to the same management style. Asking people where they fall on the “micromanagement” to “just point towards the distance and I’ll start walking” scale is a helpful conversation to have on Day One, saving yourselves headaches and off-schedule projects down the road.

Delegate more, not less. Our interns usually tell us — and not even at gunpoint — that they found our internship the most rewarding of all the ones they’ve done, including internships at large firms. I think it has a lot to do with the level of involvement and responsibility they experience during their time here. Instead of coffee and copies they’re often working side-by-side with us on client deliverables, diving headfirst into analysis and adding their own insights alongside ours. While daunting at first, and requiring some trust from our end, this depth of participation inspires pride in their work and unlocks much higher value.

Internships don’t make sense for every company, but they’re a great fit here at Southern Growth. If you have an opportunity for someone to learn and feel you can give back to them as much as they’ll give to your company, consider an internship program.