Hosting an Intern at Your Small Business: Strategies for Success
Updated: Apr 28
Have you thought about hosting an intern but are not sure if it’s for you or don’t know where to start? I had the same questions when my alma mater put out a call for internship hosts last fall. Seeing the potential benefits, I set aside my doubts and hosted a Virtual Marketing Intern for seven weeks and I am so glad I did! My intern Grace was very pleasant to work with and extremely diligent in exploring and implementing marketing strategies. She also set me up for continued success through sharing her knowledge and documenting her work. Best of all, my goal of increasing awareness of my business is already being realized!
When starting an internship program, it is important to:
1. Be clear on your purpose for hiring an intern
2. Be intentional in establishing expectations, and
3. Be thoughtful in making the internship a worthwhile experience
But first things first - how do you go about finding an intern? First, check with your alma mater or local college to see if they sponsor internships. If they do, it is likely they already have processes in place for promoting your opportunity, soliciting applications and establishing guidelines for interns and their hosts. If these resources are not available, check with online services such as Handshake or Indeed.
Now that you know how to find an intern, it’s time to address strategies for successful internships.
Be Clear on Your Purpose
There are many reasons to bring on an intern:
Addressing a long-neglected project
Filling in knowledge or skills gaps
Inspiring ideas or breathing new energy into your business
Providing students with valuable work experience
Pre-screening potential future employees
Supporting workforce development
Once you are clear on your purpose, it will be much easier to establish responsibilities, write the position announcement and prepare for the selection process.
Be Intentional in Establishing Expectations
It’s time to get specific about what the internship will look like and what you will expect from your intern. Here are some questions to consider:
Will the internship be on-site or virtual?
What are the internship program goals?
What will be the intern’s work hours and duties?
How will the intern support the overall mission of the organization?
Will the intern’s work be self-directed or more closely supervised?
Who will supervise the intern and how will they fit supervision into their responsibilities?
What actions can the intern take to ensure success in the position?
How will the intern’s work be evaluated and how will feedback be provided?
In addition to clearly articulating the above expectations in interviews, be sure to assess candidates’ purpose and expectations to ensure they align with yours. If they don’t, it will be worth your while to wait for a candidate that is a better match.
Be Thoughtful in Making the Experience Worthwhile
Interns are investing a significant amount of their time and energy into you and your business. They are there to learn and gain valuable work experience. Therefore, your top priority is to ensure the internship is worthy of this investment. So what makes a good internship? Here are some suggestions:
Determine which knowledge and skills your intern wants to develop and do all you can to make this happen.
Set aside plenty of time on your intern’s first day for orientation to the organization and the position.
Schedule regular meetings supported by an agenda.
Set up a shared folder on your network to manage workflow and store documents.
Ensure your intern has enough to do without overwhelming them. Start out with one project to get a feel for their capabilities and work pace and take it from there.
Include your intern in business meetings that are relevant to their responsibilities.
Check in regularly to make sure they are getting what they want out of the experience.
Document your intern’s qualities and contributions with specific examples so you will be prepared to evaluate their work and recommend them to future employers.
Above all, care about your intern and their success. When you do, you will have a significant impact on their life and they will do all they can to support you and your business.
This blog is one of a two-part series outlining strategies for successful internships, from the point of view of both an internship supervisor and an intern. You can read the intern perspective here. We hope you will find this internship advice valuable as you learn how to start an internship and set your intern up for success!
Need more guidance on internship best practices? Having worked with students for over 30 years, Sarah VanderMeiden is an expert on facilitating personal and career development in college students. Learn more and sign up for her newsletter at YourStudentLifeCoach.com.