For the eight years that I had my retail shop, I had a number of interns, many of which I eventually hired and I’m still good friends/work with several of them. All of these experiences have helped me come up with these 11 tips for hiring and managing interns in your creative business.
Internships are great for both business owners and those who are interning and when carried out in the right way, internships can be a valuable tool for your business. Business owners get a little extra help, new points of view, relationships and a great way to test out potential employees. Interns receive experience that might not have normally been available to them (especially in running a creative business or in a niche field), potential employment, relationships/mentorships, references and the foresight to determine if the field of business is something they actually want to pursue. This last item I believe is the most valuable thing you can get from interning: the ability to “try out” a business model or idea without any risk. Think of the money and time you can save as well as the stress that you can avoid by realizing BEFORE you embark on new career that it is not the right field for you.
When I had my shop, because of how new my concept was at the time, I had a number of people wanting to learn about what I was doing or who loved my store and wanted perhaps to have one of their own. I received inquires like this immediately and they continued over the years. I’ve learned a number of things about having interns and making the relationship beneficial for both parties.
Here are my 11 tips for hiring and managing interns for your creative business:
CREATE AN APPLICATION: If you are entertaining the idea of having an internship in your business make a simple application. It doesn’t have to be crazy but you need to know the following things:
1. If they are under 18, you’ll need parent approval.
2. All their contact info and emergency contact information.
3. Why they want to intern.
4. Any skills they have.
An application will let you know if this is going to be a good fit without much effort.
MEET THEM IN PERSON: If you like what you see on the application, contact the intern for an in-person meeting. You want to know if the person is introverted or extroverted (placing them in comfortable tasks where they will excel or not freak out/be bored) and get to know them as a person. Tell them the story of your business, your expectations and how you are in the workplace so they know what they are getting into as well. Be warm and friendly, this is free help but also make sure you are conveying that this is a business and not a party.
ASSESS THEIR SKILLS: In the application and meeting discuss what the intern is skilled in. Sometimes it’s a skill like Photoshop or other computer program but be open-minded. Maybe they love taking videos or are a budding photographer, maybe they are a neat-freak/organizational person or they are good with people. Use these skills as an advantage and make sure that you are giving them jobs that highlight their strengths so that they feel successful while helping.
CREATE INTERNSHIP GOALS: Asking what they want to get out of their internship is giving the intern the “monetary” value of the experience. Make sure that you are giving them knowledge or ways for them to expand their portfolio/resume. One of my interns wanted experience in window dressing—she wanted to create a portfolio but didn’t have a store and didn’t have any prior experience. Part of her duties were to work the register/check and respond to emails but the other part of her duties was conceptualizing and creating window displays.
MIX UP DUTIES: The above example is what I call “mixing” or giving a balance of “work that just needs to be done” with work that they would like to do. Another example is if an intern wanted to learn how to run a store—part of their job would be to do monthly orders with me and help pick out products. They also have to help me clean the shop—not the most “fun” job, but it was balanced with something of interest to them like deciding what to order.
CREATE A SCHEDULE: You want to respect the intern’s time so make sure you have a schedule. I usually plan the schedule a month in advance so everyone can plan their day/week/month and not even worry about their internship messing things up. I also scheduled shifts for four hours. That amount of time didn’t take too much from the person’s day but allowed for projects to be accomplished. I also never scheduled someone more that twice a week (although you can determine if they want more or less time when you meet them in person). Think about their schedule and what you need to have accomplished—don’t waste either parties’ time.
DETERMINE WHAT YOU NEED: Every few months evaluate your business and general day-to-day operations and examine where you need help. Use this list to determine what you will need assistance with so that when you get the opportunity to have an intern, you have a plan of action immediately.
CREATE MONTHLY OBJECTIVES: I like to type out a list of objectives for the month. The list is made as if I was making it for myself—meaning that it would be with my speed of work if I had the time that the intern has for their shift. I don’t do this to stress the person out but rather to have some kind of measurement of work speed. I don’t expect people to work at the same pace as I do (the owner, who is trained and has been doing this for years) but it conveys that there are things to do and they are here to work. Having a list and sharing it with the intern also gives the intern freedom. They arrive and check-in, get their list for the month and start tackling it—if they have a question they come to me. I personally feel this provides freedom and avoids hovering/micromanaging that can bum people out.
CHECK-IN OFTEN IN THE BEGINNING: In the first month, I keep the monthly list and I assign the duties, training along the way. While the intern is working, I will check in every hour to see if they have any questions or need assistance. This allows them to feel like they are trusted to work but also lets them know that I am here for them if they need anything. These check-ins are also a good way to keep track of the quality of work, their pace for accomplishing tasks and to see if they are just screwing around. Check-ins during the first month should determine if this is a good fit for the both of you.
OFFER PERKS: To show my appreciation for their time and work, I try to do my very best to show other forms of appreciation. Work within your budget but some things that I like to do are buying lunch, giving promotional items, conference/tradeshow tickets or other opportunities that you receive from being a business owner that you can share with those that are helping you.
WRITE LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION: Over the years I have written a number of recommendation letters and had calls on behalf of past interns. I keep a few standard drafts on file that I can work from so that I can give a response in very little time. *I’ll cover letters of recommendation in a future post.
I hope these points can give some insight and assistance if you decide to have interns in your business. I have always had wonderful experiences and have been grateful to everyone I had the pleasure of working with.