The Secrets To Hiring An Amazing Intern


Some people have great experiences with interns in their business, and others don’t. I am happy to say I have had lots of great experiences. Over the years, we have had between 2-8 interns per year come through our doors, year on year. Over a 10 year period, more than 30 interns have worked with us, and 7 of those became full-time employees.

Where do you get these interns from?

We’ve never advertised for an intern, as our industry (graphic design, marketing, and web design) tends to attract them. It also helps that we have an office in a central location in London.

We’ve had interns come directly from universities under specific programmes where they must gain real-life work experience at a company to graduate. Others have come through word of mouth, because they were the son or daughter of one of our clients or contacts. I taught a class at a university and one of the students came for an internship with us – and then we hired her full-time.

We've had so many fantastic interns over the years and we make sure to document each of their stories on our blog. And as more have come through our doors, more have come to us from referrals as people see that we are an intern friendly company.

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We have been lucky in this way, as most interns have come to us and we haven't had to go looking for them. But if you want to be proactive, there are some national and international internship programmes you can research in your area to find interns.

Fundamental rules:

You shouldn’t see an intern as a way to get someone working for free. I mention this because I’ve seen it happen a lot. It must be a win-win situation for both parties. They are there to gain experience and learn. You can hire an intern on a short-term basis and hope they will be able to help with the work you have. But boundaries must be set to make this happen.

Take time to review their work and provide constructive feedback. It does take time, but it’s unfair to expect them to come in and do a bunch of work without any feedback. It’s this feedback that is most valuable – telling them what they did well or how they can change things to make it right.

Generally, they will take longer to do tasks.They have chosen an internship as it gives them work experience – so you need to give them tasks where you can be lenient about deadlines. This gives them a bit more time to figure things out without too much stress. It’s still good to set deadlines for each task to give them structure and parameters, but I wouldn’t risk tasking them with work that, if not delivered on time or to a certain standard, might jeopardize a client relationship.

Quality varies. However wonderful your setup is and high your hopes are when you first meet someone, you will still get some people who pass through and take up more time than expected with very little benefit to you. This can happen, and you should just make the best of it.

Over the years I have developed certain tools that simplify the process to give interns a fulfilling experience, so they can learn as much as possible in a short space of time, and so it doesn’t take up too much of my time. My tools give interns structure and clear instructions which means they can focus on the work at hand and avoid feeling anxious or bored.

Pre-qualify: Create a prequalifying one-page sheet to send to prospective interns, outlining the type of tasks, soft skills, and attitudes expected from people who come for an internship.

How much to pay them? For my company, the simplest scenario is hiring interns who need to gain mandatory experience as part of their degree. They don’t need to be paid but they do want a company that can give them real work experience – not data entry or photocopying! This makes the decision much easier, and if we’re not paying them, there is a much lower barrier to entry. Alternatively, if someone comes along who has skills we need for a specific project, we would reimburse their lunch and travel expenses and pay, at the very least, the amount required by law.

What type of work? Include a comprehensive list of the types of tasks you can ask your interns to do. This shows them they will be doing real work that they can practice and learn from. At my company this includes things like entering text into WordPress, picture sourcing, resizing images, organizing photos, writing captions and blog posts, drafting instructions for our coders, word count documents, how to guides, research for social media – anything that can be done behind the scenes and then checked by us.

Trello: This tool has been invaluable for me to pre-draft and assign tasks, store useful reference information, give feedback and track progress. I even use Trello if someone is coming for just a week. Setting up a new Trello board for the intern takes just a few minutes. It’s very intuitive and they are usually very impressed with the tool. I set up the card lists under the headings: To Do, Doing, For Team to Check, Done and References, and I put a few “day one” and “week one” tasks into the “To Do” list.

Day one tasks: On their first day, have a few tasks already pre-written so they can see there is plenty to do. The worst thing is for them to be bored.

Add some tea: I always include “making tea for the team” in my pre-qualifying sheet and the “your first day” one pager. We’re a small company so this will never be a huge task, but if the intern does the tea round on a regular basis, it forces them to speak to others. It may only take a few minutes of their time each day, but it creates a positive response and means they have a chance to do something nice that’s appreciated by others.

Feedback process: Create a working process for them to have their work reviewed. For us, Trello is invaluable. Once a task is ready to be checked, they can move it to the “For Team to Check” list and tag whoever assigned them with an update and questions. They can then move to the next task – ideally, you will have 3-4 pre-loaded tasks, so you know they’ll stay occupied if they finish something and you don’t have time to check it right away.

The first tasks are usually simple things like “go through Trello and add a picture to each card”, “fill out your intake form” and “tag me when you are done with this task”.

Adapt your tasks:

When you have people, who come for internships and work experience, it’s a chance for you both to “try before you buy”. As a business owner, it’s a low-risk way for someone to learn how things run within your business and see how well they do, how quickly they learn, how soon they can be genuinely useful – and at some point, if you’re lucky, how soon they’ll become someone you’d hire. I’ve had 7 of my interns become full-time paid staff in my organization over the years, but many more haven’t made the cut.

When you have people, who come for internships and work experience, it’s a chance for you both to “try before you buy”. Photo Courtesy of NACE

3 possible outcomes

There comes a time-anything from two weeks to six months depending on their situation and the agreement you have, that you need to either let your intern go or possibly bring them closer.

If they’ve really impressed you: With those who are head and shoulders above the rest, be sure to let them know you are very happy with their work. Once the internship is over, you may be able to ask them to continue doing some freelance work until you can hire them full-time (if you feel it’s right).

If they were fine but didn’t blow you away: Hopefully, after their time as an intern, you both found the experience rewarding. They may likely ask you for a reference, and in these cases, I just try and focus on the most positive things – there’s no need to be overly critical and shatter their dreams, even if you wouldn’t enthusiastically hire them.

Complete waste of time: It happens. Sometimes, however well someone does in an interview or seems when they first come along, their skills and attitude can be completely off the mark. I have had two occasions where I had to cut internships short because of these things. But, it hasn’t made me any less enthusiastic about the interns who come along – for the most part, it’s been a fantastic experience.

With this advice in place, you will be sure to attract and inspire amazing interns, who could become future employees, advocates, supporters, and even friends. Your amazing future interns could in one or more of these ways, make a lasting and positive impact on your business.

3 Min Read

7 Must-have Tips to Keep You Healthy and Fit for the Unpredictable COVID Future

With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.

When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.

Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan

Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.

Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.

The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.

Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits

The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.

With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.

Tip 3: Start slow and strong

If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.

Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.

Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize

In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.

When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.

Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness

From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.

Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.

Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.

A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.

Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition

In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.

If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health

While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.

For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.

While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.