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How to Find an Intern Who Will Make an Impact for Your Business

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Peter Dazeley via Getty Images
Peter Dazeley via Getty Images

It's a coin toss. At least, that's how some feel about hiring interns. And if you didn't have any tools for finding an intern and coaching them, you'd be right.


Lucky for you, you really can find interns who add more to your business than tweets, blog posts and their newfound knowledge about Snapchat. After all, many business juggernaughts started as interns. But, can you find the diamond in the rough?

Before we find the solution to "How to find an intern," you have to ask yourself:

Is my business ready to learn how to find an intern?

You're busy. Your team is busy. And if you think that hiring an intern for your business will make you less busy, you're wrong. Well... maybe.

Of course, you have to have the funds to pay your intern a competitive wage. Business owners often forget to account for one of the largest investments -- training their team. This can be a considerably large investment for an entry-level intern. But not if you have the right systems.

Have you outlined the core processes behind the day-to-day tasks you're hoping to hand off? Do you have time for hands-on training?

You're going to spend more time on the front end of an intern's experience in your business, and you need to plan for this. If you can't slow down for at least half of a business day to kick things off, save both yourself and your potential intern a lot of heartache -- don't hire an intern.

However, if you can carve out that training time and at least 30 minutes a week for one-on-one time with your intern, let's talk about how to aim your hiring efforts and effectively pull that trigger.

Use a hiring system that works.

"We just clicked." Or better yet, "I really like her energy."

These are some of the things that you hear business owners say when asked why they pulled the trigger on their latest hire. We know that these biases inhibit our decisions for full-time team members. And the same is true when finding a great intern. That's why we need a system.

Obviously, you're not going to spend the same amount of time hiring an intern as you would in hiring an executive or director. But you can still create a defined process that will get you the best intern, without wasting time.

For hiring interns, I recommend an abbreviated version of the Top Grading process. After eliminating intern candidates based on pre-determined qualifications (e.g., grade point average, experience or majors/minors), further shrink the pool with 15-minute phone interviews.

This part is important.

Do yourself the favor of following a process and give yourself a pool of candidates from which to draft your pick. You can't find All-Star without knowing what Rookie or Bench Warmer look like. So, use some of these other intern-finding tools...


Learn to leverage an established or student internship program.

You can do this on your own. But it's so much easier if you have an established intern organization to help you.

Many states have established their own intern networks for small businesses and startups. You can also easily plug into programs at nearby colleges and universities. The best programs have common characteristics and tools for business owners to take advantage of.

You'll find things like online communication and resume search tools. But, the best programs have quality checks with business owners and their interns throughout the duration of the internship. There may be some deliverable from the business owner, like feedback forms or even speaking engagements. So, be sure you know what you're getting into before you pull the trigger on hiring an intern.

Know what to look for when finding an intern.

What are the most important characteristics for your intern to have? Write those traits down on a piece of paper and rank them.

Seriously. Rank them.

You're not going to find someone who scores 100 percent across all characteristics. So, that's when it becomes important to know what to weight more heavily. It's easy to be swayed by emotion or likeability after you've met them. That's why we've got to write this down before we get in a room with any candidates.

Attitude can make or break a work collaboration. So, I like to prioritize will over skill. But we can't forget skill altogether, because we need our intern to plug into a productive roll quickly and find their rhythm.

Continue your search until you find the All-Stars who are still humble enough to learn. Whether you run a large company or small company, your intern should come with the energy to attack (and truly own) a startup internship.

That means you should look for someone with enormous hustle, but who also makes the effort to listen actively. Does the candidate just nod their head and smile like the Chalupa Chihuahua? Or do they ask clarifying questions and repeat back what they heard you say?

Trust me, you want this quality.

Now, let's say you find them -- the one. Your first round, #1 draft pick intern that enthusiastically checks all the boxes. Even if they fit perfectly into your unique company culture...

You have to show them what success looks like.

Give them a project that's been on your business back burner, but could really add value if executed reasonably well. Show them how you want them to operate, how you'll measure success, then -- and this is important -- get out of the way.

Use these intern-hiring tools to turn this "coin toss" decision into a manageable process and flip the odds in your favor.