How To Build An Awesome Intern Program

This is a guest post from our good friend Vanessa Van Petten on a topic that is increasingly relevant. Finding great talent often starts with developing great talent and there's no better way to do that than with interns. We hope you enjoy her content as much as we do. - Nick and Jack.

For companies, entrepreneurs and small businesses, an intern program can be a huge asset. However, many CEOs feel that either their company is too small to be deserving of quality interns or that they would not be able to handle an intern program. Luckily, this is far from the truth.

When I launched my website RadicalParenting.com in 2006 I thought there was no way that my company—with only one employee, would be able to attract or manage an intern. Radical Parenting is a parenting website written from the kid's perspective. We give advice to adults in the youth space, track teen trends, and review brands and products for young adults. So, whether or not I felt I could handle an intern program, I needed one to help us create content and market our new website.

Over the past 5 years we have not only perfected and grown our intern program to 122 active interns and over 300 graduates, but have also helped other companies build their own blossoming intern programs.

Before going into how you can create your own program, lets look at some of the benefits of having interns. First, great interns are energetic and willing to learn. They can be a tremendous asset and help to your company and team. Second, offering internships to teens, students or recent college graduates also helps them. You are teaching skills and giving great resume value to people just starting out—this is a great corporate good deed.

The third reason you should have an intern program is when you train and work with interns you are also grooming potential employees. We have hired from our intern pool and find those employees are some of our most dedicated and knowledgeable workers. Lastly, if you have a company that is targeting a younger demographic, having young inters gives you amazing street credibility and insight into your audience. Our interns have gained us new readers, corporate clients and help us track trends so we are on the forefront of news and stories.

Now that I have (hopefully) convinced you why you must have your own intern program, here are some easy steps to create awesome interns and be able to manage them even in a small company:

To attract great interns help them understand it is a win-win.

One of the reasons we come up high on Google for 'teen internship' is because we have a page that attracts a lot of promising interns. Whether you want one intern or many, you want to decide how it will benefit both you and your potential interns and use this to attract applicants. On our intern page, we explain why our internship is a win-win for the applicant, for us and for our readers. This will help you appeal to the right kind of applicant and give a focus to your program.

Get specific on what they will do for you.

Make a list of every activity and project your company currently engages in that needs more support. Updating Twitter, cold emailing potential customers or filing applications is an example. Now, go through that list and cross out items that we need more than an hour of training. You should be left with at least five or six items. These are the activities that interns can immediately help with. This will also help you describe the internship on your intern page. Especially if it will be an unpaid position, you want to give applicants an idea of what the work is and what skills they need. This will also help weed out people who will not work for you as a potential employee.

Have lenient but poignant qualifications.

Since internships are usually unpaid it is important that you are open to all kinds of people to get a variety of applicants, but if there are skills you need, ask for them! You do not want to spend more time and energy training an intern on something when you could have found someone who already had the skills, like being able to use Powerpoint, website editing or social media fluency.

Use your first interns to create an intern program.

One of the challenges that employers face is the daunting task of training new interns—especially if you have new ones every semester or summer. Early on we actually created a standardized training program that was actually created by our first round of interns. It is very easy to do this. Once you hire your first intern, train them and have one of their early tasks be to create a training for future interns. For example, one task we give our interns is to comment on other blogs about articles we are writing. Before they can do this we need to train them on the proper commenting etiquette. We trained our first intern, then we had that intern write a three page guideline on commenting and film a two minute video explaining the process. Now, when we have new interns they simply read the guide and watch the video. If they still had questions, they could ask us and then they went back and added the missing info to the three page guide. We did this with all of the activities we needed help with so we did not have to train interns over and over again.

Create an intern learning network.

We have put all of the intern-written guides into a 60 page e-manual and put them all on a private Ning. This is our intern learning network. Interns log on, download the intro workbook and then watch the videos that previous interns have recorded. Having a network with all of the information about our company, activities, tasks and goals in one place and where interns can talk to each other has greatly cut down on our workload and builds great camaraderie amongst the interns. We have now expanded our intern learning network so that we can deliver intern tasks every week automatically.

With these steps you can create an amazing program for interns that will greatly help your business. Their efforts will not only give your company an added edge, but whatever work you put into creating the program will be doubly repaid with how much they can give back to your business.

Vanessa Van Petten is one of the nation's youngest experts, or 'youthologists' on parenting and youth. She now runs her popular website, RadicalParenting.com, which she writes with 120 other teenage writers from ages 12 to 20 to answer questions from parents, teachers and youth-oriented adults. Her approach has been featured on CNN, Fox News, and in the Wall Street Journal. She was also on the Real Housewives of Orange County helping the parents and teens. Her next book, Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I'm Grounded? will launch in September 2011 with Plume Books of Penguin USA.

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