Internships can be a double edge sword. On one hand, they provide both the intern and the employer an opportunity for growth; on the other hand, they can fall short of expectations and take away from the business’s overall productivity. The purpose of this article is to help you avoid many of the pitfalls business owners and entrepreneurs encounter with their internship programs.

Of course, each business is different, and therefore the needs of the business’s internship program will also be different. Use this as a guide to help bring up questions to structure the program that is best for you – or in some cases, help you to decide that an internship program just isn’t right for you at this time.

My goal in writing this is to save you time. I’ve been hosting internship programs for over a decade and along the way I’ve made my share of mistakes, but I’ve also had many more successes. I want you to have the same success and leave a legacy that your staff and the interns will never forget. Enjoy the journey!

Why should I use Interns?

What are Interns good for?

Internships to help grow your businessYou’ve heard the claims of business owners hiring overseas work for $5-20 an hour to help grow their business. The goal of this geo arbitrage (a term popularized by Tim Ferris) is to leverage your resources to maximize profits – a goal of every business. If you’ve tried this yourself, you’ve also undoubtedly experienced the problems that come from hiring outsourcers overseas such as language barriers, quality control, security, and cultural differences. The truth is that it takes longer to train these outsourcers and communication is spotty at best. How good is your Tagalog? Now, don’t get me wrong, you can find quality outsourcers and they can make a huge difference in your business, but sometimes looking for that diamond in the rough takes more time than it’s worth.

What if I told you that there are a group of people who are college-educated in your area that want to help you grow your business for free. They have a lot of energy, are eager to learn, and live and study in the United States. Who are these crazy people you ask? They’re college interns. These are the best of their generation who have already competed in an ever increasingly tough environment just to get into college, let alone take the extra steps necessary to get an internship.

Long gone are the days of college interns simply filing office documents and going to fetch coffee. These tech-savvy youngsters are eager to contribute to society and your business. With the economy in a state of flux and more competition for jobs than ever, college students and college grads are lining up for both paid and unpaid internships. You can have a soon-to-be university graduate working on your project today! If you’re like me, you believe that two minds are better than one, and getting a group of young, creative minds together to work on a project can launch your business into the next phase of growth.

An internship is a program that is designed to give both students and recent graduates practical work experience with a company. That company could be yours.

What are the criteria do you suggest for taking on interns?

Internships to help grow your business and brandInterns can fill any short term role. It’s important to keep in mind that interns are typically college students and as such, they are temporary. This doesn’t mean you can’t hire them after their internship, and for many, this is what they are hoping you decide to do. In fact, I know several business owners that consider their internship programs their “minor league team” from which they can pull up the top prospects when they need to fill a position. You can see that this type of program can become a natural feeder system for your business.

Most college students are on a quarter or semester system which means that each term lasts from 10-16 weeks. We typically assign interns to projects that are less than 90 days in length or have repeatable tasks and milestones that can handle new people taking over. Many others require interns to stay for a year or more – the choice is up to you and what your business needs. We’ve found that 90 days is our sweet spot for getting talented people in and out of our system.

It’s also important to note that although interns can be highly educated and ambitious, they can also lack the practical experience you’ve developed along the way and may require some hand-holding. Saying “build us a website” might not be practical for them, but they certainly can help you with social media, marketing, and other skills depending on where they are along their journey. This is what makes both the intern position ad and interview process so critical.

At what college-level do you pick your interns? (e.g. Junior year students are the best)

Interns at all levels can prove to be valuable. We used to only choose interns that were in their junior year or above (this includes graduate students), but we’ve also found that freshmen bring with them a degree of freshness and eagerness that isn’t typically seen in someone looking past the internship towards what they will be doing when they graduate in a few weeks. With that said, students that have already graduated have been the least productive over time. They often are looking for experience but will leave as soon as the idea of a job pops up or if they feel they don’t have a chance at landing a full-time job with our firm. We suggest interviewing all grade levels and making sure to pick the candidate that not only looks great on paper but feels like the right person for the job.

internshipsInterns who are more seasoned in their field of choice will also have more educational experience. Onboarding a senior accounting major for an internship involving bookkeeping takes far less time than a freshman pursuing a degree in art literature. Again, it varies from person to person, just as in interviewing an employee, but setting standards will save you lots of time and frustration. Make sure to read the sample ad copies to get ideas on how to drive the right interns into your program.


There are some legal aspects to using interns. You’ll want to check with a lawyer before moving forward. Often, it’s against the rules using unpaid interns for a job that you would typically pay someone to perform. Please check with a qualified legal representative for more information.

{This is Part 1 of a 6 part series taken from the eBook by Doug Holt on Building your Business and Brand through Interns.}

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