Anyone who’s doing or making something that excites them should have an intern. We think of internship as something that’s done mainly at large companies. You might intern at Apple because you think it’ll look good on your resume, or with a view to working there in the long run. But I think internship can be so much more than that.
I was talking to an artist friend last night about why she should consider getting an intern and how to go about finding one. She expressed reluctance, as she feels that she didn’t deserve to have someone helping her out (which is definitely not true). After talking with her, it occurred to me that there might be other people out there who feel the way she does, so I thought I would share my take on it. I’ve been running my business for almost nine years, and I’ve had interns since the first year, back when my project was just me and a URL.
Interning with someone who is spending time doing something they truly love—whether making sculpture (like the friend I just mentioned), operating a small food business, or running a printmaking studio in your basement where you make greeting cards to sell on Etsy—can be an incredibly valuable experience benefiting both parties. The business owner receives free help, and, in exchange, the intern gets to see what is possible.
When you take on an intern, you’re giving them a gift—you’re showing them how you live your life and that there’s another way to do things than the way they’ve been taught. They’ll see that you can have an idea for something that doesn’t yet exist, and, through sheer will, make this thing into a reality.
Now I’ll share with you some things I’ve learned along the way.
Where to find people
Craigslist is a good place to start. If you want to take a more targeted approach, reach out to local schools. Many colleges have intern messaging boards where you can post ads (usually for free). If you have any kind of e-mail subscriber list or a social media presence, this is even better, because you can reach out to a network of people who are already interested in what you’re doing.
When you’re writing the ad, keep in mind that it’s essentially a sales pitch. You’re asking someone to work for free, so you should let them know exactly what they’ll get out of it, and what they’ll be doing. Be as specific as you possibly can, so there are no misunderstandings about what the job entails. Most importantly, tell them why you’re interesting enough that they would want to spend their precious time working for you.
If you’re not used to interviewing people, it may feel strange, but it’s always a good idea to sit down with them and have a chat, so you can see if it’s a good fit. Here are some examples of the questions you might want to ask them:-
Why do they want to work for you?
What do they hope to get out of the internship?
Will they be receiving academic credit for the internship? If yes, this serves as a guarantee for you, because it means they will be far more committed.
What are their plans for the coming months? Are they able to commit to the full term?
In my experience, the last question is of the highest importance. It’s fairly common for interns to work for a week or two and then become busy with other things, such as a new job or something else in their lives. Either way, this is going to happen—after all, you’re not paying them. But having a frank conversation about the importance of committing for the specified duration, and being clear about what is expected of them (2 days per week, 6 hours per day, for example) will help to measurably reduce this.
The most important question to ask yourself is: Do you like them? You’ll be spending a fair amount of time with this person, so it’s essential that you get along with them. This is especially important if your business is a one-person show.
My preference is not to impose too much structure. I don’t appreciate being told what to do, so I assume that other people don’t, either. On the other hand, an intern is going to require some guidance. Before you post the job, spend some time thinking about exactly what they’ll be doing for you. Think broadly as well as specifically. Imagine their first day with you—what will they spend their time doing? You might want to set them a few small tasks that are easy to understand, then have them come back for a new set of tasks when they’re done. As you get to know each other, you’ll see what they excel at and what they can do independently, but, in the beginning, they will want to be managed. I’ve learned the hard way that if you give broad, far-reaching, independent projects to interns, they won’t feel like they’re getting anything out of it. Then one day, they just won’t show up. They are interning for you in order to learn from you, so you must help them to do that.
That’s all there is to it, really. Post your ad, even if you think no one will respond. It doesn’t hurt to try. In all likelihood, you’ll receive more responses than you can handle. Don’t overthink it—just give it a try. You’ve got nothing to lose. As well as the help, it’s energizing to be with someone who is excited enough about what you do that they would want to help you out for free. It can really invigorate your project, as new people will contribute new energy and fresh ideas that you didn’t even know you were missing.
Now go out and get an intern!