At Badger Maps, we've successfully developed an internship program that prepares young professionals from various countries and backgrounds for lifelong careers. It trains interns and exposes them to real responsibilities, helping them figure out what areas are good fits for them.
We believe that more companies, especially startups, should launch such intern training programs. The right interns can help you get important projects done and support the growth of your company.
Recruit the Right People
Many companies corner themselves by only hiring from Ivy League and big-name schools. This may seem like a smart move, but it prevents you from building a strong and diverse culture. Yes, Stanford has an excellent MBA program, but the curriculum is strikingly similar to the one at California State University, East Bay – where the student body is much more diverse. Try to think outside of the box. Remember that there are lots of highly qualified and talented people who may have taken a different path toward education or experience. Most millennials aren't fortunate enough to go to Stanford or UC Berkeley, but they are just as ready and qualified, waiting for their chance to shine.
It's also a great idea to hire recent college grads for your internship program instead of only hiring current students. Youth unemployment is high for a lot of reasons right now, and grads are likely to take the opportunity seriously and create value for your company. Besides, the intern might be such a great fit that you want to hire them for a full-time job.
An internship is a great way to get to know a person and find out how they work and think. Make sure you use the time in the best way possible. If an intern turns out to be a great fit, seize the opportunity and hire them!
The key to attracting students and recent grads is to give them meaningful and educational projects to do. Young talent is looking for great work experience, so make sure to describe these projects in your job postings. When interviewing, take the time to explain what a candidate will get from the internship in terms of learning new skills and career development.
There are many websites where you can publish your internship opportunity, such as Internships.com and Glassdoor. Vocate is a great platform that specifically focuses on finding the best placements for students.
Become a Teacher
Young people tend to start their careers lacking both the hard and soft skills necessary for workplace success. This is because, unfortunately, many universities don't prepare students properly for the workforce. For example, most roles in business require some sort of customer interaction, but universities spend virtually no time on the skills that make people successful in these roles.
As a result, it is critical to invest heavily in training up front if you want your interns to be successful in your organization. Schools often focus on training in academia or in more focused vocations like accounting; they overlook general business skills. That's why students often find themselves feeling out of place when they start their careers.
It's your job to change that! Be the teacher and mentor who prepares your interns for professional environments and sets them up for great careers. When you help them thrive in their roles, they'll contribute valuable work to your company! Everyone wins.
Find the Right Role
Given that students and recent grads lack specific, job-related experience, companies need to focus their onboarding efforts on finding the right roles for interns within their organizations.
Most interns hardly understand the role they're hired for or where it fits into the overall business, let alone why they might be a better fit for one role than another. Don't try to fit your interns into specific roles right away. Find out where their strengths and weaknesses lie and what they enjoy doing. That will help you find the most suitable positions for them.
To find that perfect role for each intern, we built a "career personality test." It's a questionnaire that identifies which careers would be a good fit for our interns, considering their strengths, weaknesses, interests, and passions. Once we have this information, we can figure out where they best fit in the company – the teams they should work with, the projects they should work on, and the specific tasks at which they excel.
Taking a similar approach will help you uncover the role that is the right fit for each of your individual interns.
Help Them, Help You
You need to take the time to create a program and environment that enables your interns to be successful and helps them secure future jobs. This is obviously a big investment, but it will be worth it once the intern is up to speed and can take on important projects that otherwise wouldn't get done at all.
Always wanted to start a blog but never had the time and resources to do it? Wish you could be more active on your social media accounts? How about improving SEO by researching the best strategies and practices? At small companies, projects like these often get dropped due to a lack of manpower. Why not teach your interns how to do them and let them take charge of these projects? You'll be surprised how motivated they are to give their best and deliver great work. They will learn new skills and gain valuable experience while your company grows.
At Badger, I teach intern classes once per week on various business topics. For example, one topic we've covered is "Startup 101" – how to start your own business. As a founder, I'm happy to answer all their questions and tell them about the lessons I've learned. In another class, I explained what growth hacking means and the tasks involved. For another session, all the interns prepared elevator pitches about our product and delivered them to an audience.
Everyone can make time for one hour of coaching each week, and doing so gives interns a great and valuable experience at your company. Giving your interns career advice – such as how to hunt for a dream job, what to include in a resume, and how to write a cover letter – prepares them to start their careers off right.
Lastly, it's important to treat interns as professionals, not as coffee-fetchers. Train them to be successful in their roles. Let them work on meaningful projects from beginning to end so they get valuable work experience.
I believe that young people entering the workforce have a lot of potential. They can do great things if they're given the right opportunities and training. Compared to other generations, I think millennials in particular are great at learning new things. They're also especially tech-savvy and relatively comfortable with rapid change – which makes them a great fit for the fast pace of startup culture.
We have many interns thriving on our team because we've taken the time to create the kind of comprehensive program they need to be successful. I think everyone should hire and train interns in such a way. Not only does doing so help interns with their own futures, but it also makes the time they spend with your company more productive and worthwhile.
Steve Benson is the founder and CEO of Badger Maps.