How To Hire, Teach, And Work With GREAT Interns

I was about to title this post, “how to get people to follow you & work with you… for free.” But, I realized that sounded as if I was profoundly teaching you how to exploit others to do your bidding… for free. This isn’t the case because I, in retrospect, have paid many of the interns who have worked with me in the past. However, this isn’t my good ole’ days where money flows out of my ass like a Taco-Bell burrito. Therefore, the interns I do have must work for free.

I guess the post should be “How To Manage Interns – For Free?” You get the idea. 

Before I begin with my post, here’s my experience with managing interns.

(in college I once managed 17 interns at once). 

Since starting my entrepreneurial journey in 2011, I’ve had a total of twenty-seven interns. I’ve fired sixteen, three of them quit, two of them went awol, four of them will always stay in my heart forever, and two of them are currently working with me at this moment. I’ve disappointed a few, I’ve overspent money with a couple, I’ve out-shined my own expectations with some, I’ve gotten taken advantage of, and I’ve also been surprised in the most amazing ways.

It’s because of these experiences that I now have a better sense of what it takes to i) find the right intern(s) for the right job(s) and ii) how to get these intern(s) to give you their best all awhile working with you for free (something that fits your budget).

Let’s begin.

#1: Ask – Why Do You Need An Intern?

Before you post a job listing, you should take a step back and figure out if the projects you have require an intern. For example, I didn’t have any interns all of 2015 because I was rebuilding my life. I had no need. There wasn’t that much work to be done because I was looking for work. I didn’t have purpose, which meant that anyone who would work for me would have nothing to do. This year is different as I’m growth hacking a new startup and building an online brand.

#2: Ask – What Will They Learn?

Yes, you need someone to help with the overload of projects coming your way. However, an intern isn’t someone who just goes out and fetches coffee. An intern is someone who will learn important skills that could transition into a full time opportunity with your company in the future, or bring those skills to other job opportunities. If you can’t teach them anything, if they’re not going to learn anything, then it’ll be a waste of time for them and a waste of resources for you. It’s all about building leadership.

#3: What To Post on The Job Board

I post my intern applications on college job boards: specifically the UC Berkeley college board,  because I’ve developed a stereotype that UC Berkeley students are highly intelligent individuals who will work their ass off on your projects. Of course, you can post your intern applications wherever you see fit (whatever works). However, it’s crucial to be mindful of legal considerations, especially if you have evidence of unjust job loss in an at-will state. Understanding your rights and potential avenues for recourse can help protect yourself and your interns.

Anyway – this is what I post:

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 10.34.15 AM

Intro provides a quick sentence or two of who we are as a company: eliciting the message that we’re legit. Adding the “we’re growing and we would love for you to join the team” shows you’re looking for someone who could potentially work for you for the long-term (which strikes up the notion in the application’s head that this is indeed a worthy internship).

Writing out qualifications are really important because it’ll help seed out randoms. Also, writing “What You’ll Learn” is important because if you don’t tell them what they’ll learn then how will they be motivated to apply or even want to work with you in the first place? Remember, an internship is about LEARNING.

Lastly, in the How To Apply section, I also tell them to send not only their resume, but also a short paragraph of why they want to work in my industry. Of course this is optional, but I find adding an extra step in the application process really helps attracting only those serious candidates: my time is important.

#4 – The Job Interview

Everyone has their own way of doing a job interview. What I like to do is usually give them a task before the interview. Then, at the interview, we’ll go over their task and I start putting them to work. Yes, they start work on the spot. It is during the work-interview that they get to see what your company does, what your company has accomplished, and see if this is actually they want to pursue.

Getting them to work right away creates a subconscious drive in them to understand every facet of your company. You want them to know and then WANT them to work for your company. The worst is you get a great candidate who then realizes that they don’t want to work for you.

Once they’re done with the work-interview, ask them what they think? What they like and don’t like? What they think they’ll learn? If they seem excited?

Then I press with the actual questions:

i) Tell me a time… ii) How do you like working remote… iii) What’s your biggest weakness… iv) What are the three things you want to learn in this opportunity… v) What’ your time schedule like… etc.,

#5 – The Actual Internship 

In every internship I always start off writing down a list of the skills and subjects they want to learn on the job. Therefore, I can start gauging how I should structure each project I have for them. Then, depending on your structure, I like to create one weekly meeting to go over their work & figure out what they love / want to see more of – about the internship.

I understand we haven’t gotten to the “management” portion just yet. But, the aforementioned information above shows the building blocks of what leads into creating an amazing intern.

Onto Management…

#6 – Motivating Interns

There is this great Ted Talk from Dan Pink who talks about the three pillars of motivation: autonomy, purpose, and mastery. Basically, I give every intern real projects that actually affect the company.

Autonomy: Yes, I give them all my passwords, I give them access to everything because I want to somehow stress them out a bit that their actions actually mean something. Of course, in the beginning, I’ll be double checking their work, but for the most part – I give them the freedom to do what they think is best for the company.

Purpose: When they see that their work is actually making change and you also AFFIRM these changes… all of this will motivate them to keep pushing forward. People love watching their creations come to life, but more importantly they love getting noticed for the wonderful creations they’ve created.

Mastery: Remember how in the beginning of the internship I ask, “what do you want to learn?” I always make sure that the curriculum I’ve set for them matches their needs of what they wanted to learn. Becoming a master at your passion is one of the most fulfilling feelings in the world.

#7 – Managing Interns

Being an authority: Interns are not your friends. In the future they could, however, while the internship is going on – you must do everything you can to showcase a perception of authority. An authoritative figure is someone who is always teaching new skills and giving advice, an authority figure is always communicating what needs to be done, an authority figure is always selling the vision of each project, an authority figure is always being better than your intern…

What do I mean be “better than your intern.” This means they know that if you ever did their job, you would do it a 1000% better. Almost every project I tell my intern to do, I’ve proven in front of them or in the past that I’ve done it better. You create the bar and then you want to motivate and teach your intern to a point where they end up creating a better bar than you in the future.

The Three Strike Discipline Rule: Though I cherish failure and struggle. I don’t like people who aren’t giving their best. In the past I’ve had interns run all over me because I would buy into their excuses and buy into their “sorry’s.” No more. I don’t care if your idea failed: you’re not going to be dinged for that because I love knowing you did all you could to create something magical. 100% effort and the drive to learn more, in the long run, will turn you into a leader in the industry you’re interning for (is my thinking).

I care more about i) transparency, ii) full work (not half-ass work), and iii) getting what you said would get done, done.

So I fire slash discipline interns –

when they don’t communicate with me (about their schedules, about what they’re capable of, what they want to learn, etc.,),

when they don’t follow through (nothing disappoints me more when an intern gives me a deadline [of their choosing] and don’t hit such deadline). (effort is great / getting it done is great / but when you get it done – just to get it done – we’ll have issues).

I care about these traits above because I want to instill great working habits for all my interns. 99% of the time, great habits lead to better results in the future.

Not calling them an intern: Be careful how you introduce your intern to others. Don’t call them your intern, say “colleague.” Or, she / he works with us… Or, if you do say the word “intern” make sure you add an adjectives like “she’s our amazing-rockstar intern.” The word intern has a negative connotation and re-organizing your rhetoric will show how much you care and how much you value them.

Treat them when they are successful: I love to praise my interns when they do amazing work. Period. We live in a time where we forget to appreciate each other. I’m not saying to go overboard, but I’m saying be aware of everything positive & delta… they bring to the table. .

It’s all about making sure they get rewarded, but also making a point that they don’t plateau. An intern who isn’t learning will stop working. An intern who thinks they’re the best and untouchable, won’t learn. Success is great BUT if they’re not failing or struggling then you’re not doing your job. It is through failure, struggle, and (good) stress that you learn the most.

YES. Working with people who are NOT AFRAID to fail. NOT AFRAID to take a risk. NOT AFRAID to take a leap of faith. NOT AFRAID to scream at me, yell at me, and push me…. all the while being communicative and honest… well that’s someone stellar.

#8 – The Best Type of Interns

As of right now I have two amazing interns with with me. They both have different purposes and I’m always shocked to how lucky I’ve become. They’re intelligent, hard working, and independent. They challenge me, they motivate me, and they inspire me every single day.

I’ve learned in the past that you’re running a successful internship when you become better than you were when the program started. Why? Because great interns will force you to learn more, learn faster, and most of all, force you to be amazing & successful. They’re counting on you to be the best. You better be the best. Treat them well. No pressure. Ha.

Thanks for listening.

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