If you’re going to go down the intern program path, then you may want to consider prepping a thorough training and development strategy. Think of your intern as a walking billboard for other vendors, businesses, and (of course) attracting future interns. A poor experience isn’t something you can afford, even with an unpaid internship. In addition to reaping positive PR from industry-types, a well thought out training program will also help you mold a lowly intern into a star employee.

  • Vetting the Will-do From the Will-not. There are two types of interns: those that want to work and those that like the idea of work. It’s pretty easy to vet the will-dos from the will-nots early on, and it starts with refraining from handing your intern desirable work on day one. Instead, make them first do the grunt work and see if they come back a second day, a third, or even another week. A major unnamed LA-based blogging guru takes that strategy by keeping interns at bay from fun blogosphere projects. Instead, the first two weeks of a three month contract period are filled with menial chores, errands, and mind-numbingly boring internet research – no matter how talented the intern is. Once an intern has shown they’re not there for the glitz and glamour, they’re then ushered into more exciting projects.
  • Create a Hierarchy They Can Understand. Assign your intern a single person to report to, preferably one that enjoys mentoring new staff members. It also helps to give an intern a scope of what to expect during their time there. Will they have a set number of projects to work on? What will their key responsibilities be; what will be expected of them? Identifying key goals will help keep interns from feeling lost and adrift, particularly if they’re new to the workforce. This is also a wonderful time to set benchmarks for new interns by encouraging them to meet personal goals that help them grow and develop as talent.
  • Cultivate Trust. Your intern is also a set of new eyes and ears for your company. They’ll see things from a fresh perspective and be better able to gauge how your business functions. To reap from their view and gain fresh insight into your business, take the initiative to treat intern(s) to lunch once a week or however often you can make the time. Ask them what they like about working for you, what needs improvement, if they’ve had any challenges, and (most importantly) what trends they’ve spotted and where they see the industry heading.
  • What Matters More Than Money. While every intern would be more than happy to accept a paycheck, most will also flock to you for other reasons including training and networking opportunities. Perhaps you can guarantee ring-side seat at industry event, guided networking opportunities with middle-management, or personal growth and career development counseling from the CEO? These things will matter more than money in the long run, and most interns (and college counselors) recognize that.

Getting the right interns through the door can be the difference between staying a small business and moving to the next level. Investing in intern training and development gives both employer and intern a solid idea about how well the two work together – a relationship that could turn an intern into a star employee or trusted right hand. An intern that’s well managed also produces fiscal results. Enabling them to take on some of the workload means being able to pursue what you do best while still trusting that other aspects of your business are met. If this means pursuing leads and sales, or having your intern undertake a potentially lucrative new project, the end result is the same. More trained and focused hands on deck inevitably means smooth sailing for your business in a sea of potential profitability.