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How to Hire an Intern for Small Business

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Part 1 Why I needed an Intern

Not too long ago, I was in over my head. Today I’m sharing with you how I hired a fabulous intern and another wonderful part time assistant and created room in my life to grow my business.

Like many (or most!) of you, I am the sole proprietor of my company. I manage branding and social media strategy for restaurants, jewelry companies, musicians and other small business owners. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had “working,” and I’m so thankful to get to do this.

We moved from Dallas, Texas to Jacksonville, Florida three years ago, for my husband to attend graduate school, fully intending to return to Texas after he graduated. As it turns out, we really enjoy the slower style of Jax, and it’s hard to argue with being 20 minutes from the beach!

Once we decided to settle down in Jacksonville last Fall for good, I really honed in on making connections here, rather than focusing more in Texas. (Just to clarify, I didn’t leave my Texans out, I just honed in on my current location a little more!) I’d been a little hesitant to make many contacts here, because I thought we’d be heading back to Texas in just two and a half years. (Hint: I wouldn’t advise doing this.)

Oh, the best laid plans…

I’m sure it won’t be a surprise to any of you who’ve buckled down and decided to just go for something, but when I did, my client list expanded exponentially. I was working like a crazy person, and that elusive work/life balance that we all seem to crave as millenials was nowhere to be found.

After I missed three meetings in one week, (which is highly unusual for this planner-using gal!), I knew I needed help. But I wasn’t sure where to start. So, like I tell my clients to do, I made a list of areas where I needed the most assistance.

Creating a Job Description for an Intern

As much as I would like to off-load invoicing and other less creative tasks, I knew that those areas were ones that I personally needed to focus on for the health of my company. However, there were several tasks that I could share, if I was willing to train and coach someone to do what I needed them to do.

For me, that list included quite a lot of social media scheduling, engagement and posting. For you, it might look a little different. Here are six questions that can help you write an intern job description:

  1. What specific tasks do I need to share?

  2. What kind of time commitment am I looking for in an intern?

  3. Do I need them to be local to me, or am I willing to work with them remotely?

  4. What characteristics are a “must have” for this role?

  5. Am I willing to pay for this? Or is it for class credit?

  6. What is the timeline? (Summer, Fall, all year, etc.)

You can see the job description I created here , for reference. Sharing the job opportunity and making connections

I posted the job listing on my personal page and my business page, but I knew that wouldn’t be sufficient. So I started thinking of other connections that I have. Rising Tide Society’s Facebook page and the local Tuesday Together groups are always great places to start. I mean, I have never seen a group so quickly crowdsource and get a Bachelorette contestant to a wedding in less than two weeks, so I knew an intern was a probably a simple task!

Think about other community-minded groups you might be a part of on Facebook, but also offline as well. I posted on Facebook in a mom’s group, church groups, in an alumni group, and also in my neighborhood groups. Colleges and Universities are a great resource, as well as Chamber groups and even just your personal contact list. You never know who might be interested!

I asked the applicants to email me their resume, and then I’d go from there. That was step one of the interview process – can they follow simple instructions?!

It was mid-March when I started my search, and right in the middle of Spring Break. (It’s been so long since I took a Spring Break, I completely forgot!) It was a bit difficult coordinating schedules with college students at first, but when one of the applicants followed up via email and then personally called and left me a message a couple of days later, I knew I was on to something!

I needed a self-starter, an independent person and a good communicator. Just from applying, I had a good understanding that this girl was on the right track.

How to Interview an Intern

I set up an interview via Facetime with one of my applicants, Hannah, and I’m so glad we did. It was much more personal than a regular phone call, and I really enjoyed meeting her. (That’s my first piece of advice when conducting an interview – talk face to face.)

You may want to schedule more than one applicant to interview, but I was pressed for time and encouraged by her abilities to make sure we connected. While we talked, I also had Hannah’s resume pulled up in front of me, and I asked her to tell me more about some of her experiences. I heard about companies she’s worked for, and the tasks she completed for them.

Next, we talked about availability. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to get someone every day from 9 to 5 (Nor did I want to! I don’t even work those regular hours!). So we talked about her summer schedule and agreed up on a 3-day work week for her.

I had a general idea of the scope of work I needed help with, but I also didn’t want Hannah to be bored. So I told her to give me a week, while I was talking to a few other small business owners who could also use her help. I had two amazing internships in college – one with Southwest Airlines and the other with the March of Dimes.

Offering an Internship and Making a Plan

I knew that it was important to have some structure and a general idea of how she could fill her time. Keep in mind that while an intern is helping you , you are also paying it forward and coaching them through some great experiences as well. I wanted this to be memorable and helpful to Hannah, too.

A week later, I formally offered Hannah a summer internship, and it happened to be her birthday. (And no, I didn’t plan that!)

She is actually graduating over the summer and getting married this Fall, so she didn’t need class credit. I did offer a small stipend to sweeten the deal, but it doesn’t have to be that way if you can’t swing it. It’s just something to consider.

Thinking Outside the Intern Box
Here I was, though, still in over my head, with an intern scheduled to start June 1. How was I going to survive

the rest of March and all of April without help? As you all know, it helps when you think outside the box!

A good friend of mine locally is highly-organized, very efficient, and a mom of young twins. I figured if she can balance all those first-year milestones and still have time to coordinate parties, toy drives and a move to a new house, then she could probably help me, too. She had casually mentioned seeing my need for an intern and said, “Man, I wish I could be your intern. That would be so fun, but I’m not in college.”

It got me thinking – why was I limiting it to college students? So I reached out to her and asked if she would be interested in working with me a few hours a week in April and May. I could breathe again – I was getting help!

It ended up being such a helpful arrangement that I asked her pretty quickly to stay on and continue to help me with social media posting. I was reminded that some of the best multi-taskers are mamas, and I’d hit the jackpot with this friend!

Working together gave me freedom to focus on other tasks, and it gave her the ability to work at home while her babies napped, and also bring in some money for her family. That’s a win/win in my book!

Tell me: what questions do you have? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. In my next post, I’ll be talking about how we manage tasks, how to find your best communication style and how to give and receive feedback.

Once you find your intern

Once I brought an intern on board, though, I needed to come up with a plan on how to best utilize this extra help. I didn’t want it to be wasted!

As usual when starting a new gig, there’s going to be a learning curve. Just keep that in mind and strive to be gracious as you start working together. Also remember that you know in your head all the things that need to happen, but it’s probably been a while (if ever!) since you thought about step-by-step tasks.

How to Work with an Intern

Ask: are they visual or auditory learners?

This will impact how they best receive information. Visual people may want step-by-step instructions in written form. Auditory learners might work best when they hear you say what you want them to do. Personally, I’m visual, so I communicate well via email. But I’m not afraid to pick up the phone! It will help you both to know what styles you prefer for communicating.

Remember: they’re looking to you for guidance.

This one still blows my mind, to be honest. (How am I old enough/mature enough/experienced enough to give someone guidance?!) But it’s in your best interest and theirs to keep that in mind. When I think back to my internships and former bosses, the ones I want to emulate were kind, communicative, and personable. The ones I didn’t want to be like were overbearing, poor communicators and impatient. Think about the people you’ve worked with and admired, and translate that into your own management style.

Don’t pass of tasks you hate, just because you hate them.

This was great advice given to me at one of my first jobs. Ten years in and it still rings true. If you find someone who delights in thinking differently than you and it’s not a big deal for them to take a project on, then by all means, go for it. But if you’re continually butting up against a wall yourself, and then the same thing is happening with your intern, then it’s time to think twice about the task.

Ask your intern how they would tackle a specific project.

This is where the beauty of having a team comes in. Explain the task, the issues you foresee and then ask how they’d manage that. If you’ve been working alone for a long time like I was, you’ll be amazed and pleasantly surprised at the fresh viewpoint someone else can offer. Sometimes we get in a rut doing something the way we’ve always done it, and it’s so refreshing to get a new perspective. Embrace it!

Keep track of Tasks

These two items go hand-in-hand for me. I found that Wunderlist is a great tool for managing tasks. We can add, edit, and mark off (so satisfying!) what’s been done. I can add notes or say “see email” and give more information that way, especially if it’s a step-by-step process. You may use Asana, Trello, or an old-fashioned pen and paper. How ever you decide to track this, just keep in mind that it’s there to help!

Planning ahead

One of the issues I first ran into was thinking ahead for tasks. It’s always amazing to me how someone without distractions (read: their own business) can complete a task much faster than you can. Having a laser focus on one thing at a time is easier to do when you don’t have to manage everything, you know what I’m saying? My assistant and intern were so focused on their tasks at hand that they actually got done quicker than I anticipated. What a great “problem” to have! So I’ve made it a point to sit down once or twice a week and think about the next several days. Where can I use help? What tasks am I able to share? Write them down and move on. Your team can follow up with you if they need more information, but if you’re lucky, they will take it and run!

Set boundaries and expectations

We’re all human, so there won’t be a time when everything goes exactly to plan. I found it helpful to set deadlines, to check in and see if they have questions, and to touch base. You don’t need to be their next best friend, but keeping the lines of communication open is so beneficial. If I’m gone for the weekend, I let my team know. If I won’t be able to answer emails, I let them know. Set them up for success, and it will make everyone’s lives easier.

What’s your experience?
This is such a helfpul community, and we’d love to hear from you. Tell us what’s hanging you up from asking for help, or what’s been your biggest challenge after expanding your team.

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