Summer Interns: The Good, the Bad and Avoiding the Ugly

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It’s summertime, and for many businesses, things seem to slow down a bit—but not at Capterra. Summers at Capterra are intern season, and after several years of trial and error, we have some things we’d like to share.summer interns

The Good
Interns are a great way to get a lot done in a short amount of time, all while giving them the opportunity to learn. It’s a win-win! Capterra hires interns to help with projects that we’ve been too busy to accomplish on our own and to test new initiatives. Our interns have worked on everything from data cleanup to research and writing. Internships are kind of like an extended interview for both parties: businesses can see an intern’s work and how they fit in with the company, while interns can decide if it’s a place they’d like to be long-term. Some Capterra interns have come back for multiple summers and a few have become full-time employees after graduation– one is even the head of a department!

The Bad
Intern programs aren’t all hearts and flowers. Bringing on a new team of people takes work. In the past, we didn’t do that work up-front and the internship program suffered. Now, we spend time creating an on-boarding program that gets them comfortable with what they’ll be doing and us comfortable with their level of expertise. This year’s training program took several weeks, and has been well worth the effort. Interns don’t usually start with the same level of business knowledge as a college grad, and it takes a crash course to get them up to speed. And don’t forget, managing interns can (and probably will) be a full time job. There are time sheets, vacation schedules, individual issues, and a variety of personalities. We learned the hard way that an internship doesn’t manage itself.

The Ugly
Let me preface this by saying, I am not talking about this year’s interns. We have learned a thing or two over the years, specifically about hiring, and I can honestly say that this is our best group of interns to date. Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll tell you this: not all interns are in it for the experience. Some just want the cash and will avoid work at all costs. Some will spend more time on Facebook than on their assignments. They might talk badly about your company in places where your employees overhear them. And sometimes, you’ll feel more like a mom than a manager. These things have happened to us, but they don’t have to happen to you.

Make the Good Outweigh the Rest
I can’t say enough good things about this year’s group of interns. They are smart, motivated, reliable and hardworking. They’ve already accomplished more in the past month than some other interns have in an entire summer. So what’s the difference? Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Craigslist is not the best place to post jobs. Try local university career centers. Most will let you advertise jobs for free, and you’ll find an untapped pool of talent looking for experience.
  • Take time to interview properly. Just because internships are temporary does not mean you should skimp on the interview process. Interns can be a huge (potentially long term) asset, so select them with care.
  • Take the time to develop a training program. It can be labor intensive, but getting everyone on the same page upfront is key to project success throughout the summer. Cover everything from company policies to specifics about their project.
  • Set clear expectations. What do you expect your interns to accomplish? Want them to gather data on a spreadsheet? How much data? Want them to write? When is that writing due? Setting clear goals and expectations helps you both stay on track and will help you determine if the summer has been a success.
  • Make a contingency plan (or 2 or 3). Sometimes your plan doesn’t go quite the way you wanted it to. What will you do if that happens? Come up with a list of additional projects where you could use help. You may need to move interns around to find the best fit for their skill set.
  • Hire people with the skill set you need. Hopefully, this will help you avoid proceeding to Plan B or C. Want writers? Try English or Journalism majors. Tech help? Look for someone savvy in that area. You want to train them on your particular business practices, not start from scratch.

Do you have a summer internship program at your company? If so, what tips would you add to this list?

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About the Author

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Besa Pinchotti

Besa Pinchotti is Marketing Director at Capterra. By day, she helps connect buyers and sellers of business software. By night, she uses her skills as a former journalist to tell the stories of troubled software buyers so the world can learn from their lessons.

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