6 Tips for Small Businesses to Attract a Rockstar Intern and Keep Them Inspired

Posted May 17, 2016 by office

It’s officially summer, meaning throngs of college students and recent grads will soon be joining the workforce as interns. With large corporations offering high-paying, lucrative internships, it can be hard for small businesses to attract and retain the brightest college students when some have already been scooped up months ago. To stand out from the crowd (yes, even among Fortune 500 companies), it’s important to show the value you would add to potential interns’ resumes, that you’re committed to their professional development, and that you want to make sure they have the best experience possible.

Finding the right intern is just half the battle, and can be a full time job in itself. To take the grunt work out finding an intern, MakeOffices created an intern match program for our DC area members (expanding to Chicago & Philly in 2017). This year we recruited college students from 10 universities in the area* and chose the brightest candidates. Using a system of mutual benefit, and aligning on the needs of our members and the skillsets of the intern applicants, we scheduled in-person and Skype interviews for stand-out applicants.

In the end, our members reaped the benefits of hiring qualified, passionate interns without lifting a finger. Meanwhile, the interns will have the opportunity to gain valuable experience at dynamic small businesses while learning about the growing coworking industry.

Through our intern match program this year, we learned what it takes to recruit a rockstar team member. For those who are starting the search for an intern now, or who might need to start the search later this year, here are six tips to attract the right person for your team, and how keep them feeling motivated and inspired:

1. Emphasize your company’s unique culture.

If an intern is interested in your small business over a structured program at a large corporation, it’s likely that they’re attracted to your company culture and would prefer working in a smaller, more hands-on environment. Emphasize the benefits you bring to the table that can’t be matched in a structured environment: The ability to take on more responsibility and have a bigger impact, the flexibility to work on areas of interest rather than being pigeon-holed into specific roles and responsibilities, and the freedom to bring new ideas to the table. Show what makes your company different. Are you a quirky group? Do you like watching baseball games together? Be yourself right off the bat (no pun intended) to show a potential intern what working for your company will be like, and find the perfect fit for your team!

2. Be committed to your intern’s professional development.

The right intern will be highly motivated to learn and improve on the job, and will expect you to provide opportunities to push boundaries. In fact, 89%** of interns agree that it’s important to be constantly learning as they gain valuable experiences to supplement their studies. To keep your intern engaged, pair them with a mentor who has similar interests or a related career path to provide your intern with an open forum to discuss their goals, aspirations, and areas for improvement. Letting a candidate know of your commitment to professional development will help attract and retain a driven, career-oriented intern that will provide real value to your team.

3. Provide a good work-life balance.

As a startup or small business, it’s difficult to compete with internships programs that offer high-paying salaries and extravagant company benefits. Differentiate yourself from the pack by being a little more flexible with working hours. Some interns might need or want to take on a part-time job for some extra cash, so being transparent and accommodating with your intern’s out-of-work schedule will go a long way. Many interns also need to balance a full-time courseload and extracurricular activities, so being understanding of these prior commitments will make them more willing to do their best work when they are working with you. Studies show that 81% of millennials value being able to set their own hours, and working around their needs while still expecting a high level of engagement during working hours will help keep interns happy and fulfilled.

4. Encourage creativity and foster a collaborative environment.

More and more millennials prefer working for companies that value their creative input and unique ideas. The right intern will be passionate about your company and its mission and vision, and can offer fresh and unbiased ideas. To cultivate a positive space for innovative brainstorming, emphasize that their opinions will be heard and appreciated. Joining a company as an intern – whether paid or unpaid – often times has the inherent negative connotation of being “less important” than other employees, so creating an inviting environment will be instrumental to your intern’s happiness and contribution.

5. Provide networking opportunities and help build connections.

For a college student, it’s important to grow a professional network to help with the job search after graduation. Connections are powerful, as nearly 70% of all jobs are found through networking. Coworking spaces like MakeOffices provide a built-in network for just that. Interns can meet industry experts at the coffee bar for a quick chat or connect at one of our events. We’ve all been there, and any small effort to help build an intern’s network will go a long way.

6. Give them kudos for great work.

It’s no secret that recognition for great work makes employees happier, more productive, and more likely to continue with high-quality output. Show interns – and your other employees too – that their work and time is appreciated. Monthly employee appreciation lunches, happy hours, or even small things like quick thank you messages work wonders in maintaining morale.

We’ve all been in the position of being completely new to a company, new to the roles and responsibilities, and nervous about making the right impression. While this is a difficult position to be in, the lessons learned and opportunities for growth are priceless. Help your new intern and team member navigate these uncharted waters, and together you just might be able to expand the boundaries of what’s possible.

*local colleges participating in the MakeOffices intern match were Georgetown University, George Washington University, American University, Virginia Tech, University of Virginia, Howard University, University of Maryland, James Madison University, and Rollins College.

**Stats from InternMatch Infographic