How I (Finally) Hired A Rockstar Summer Intern For My Small Business
I’ve spoken to numerous entrepreneurs over the past few months, and each told me how difficult it is to find, hire and maintain a good intern. This holds especially true if your organization isn’t a big company with whom affiliation will offer a bright spot of the prospective intern’s resume and/ or good pay with benefits like daily lunch, access to VIP events or even travel.
If you’re a small company like I am with yourself as the only full-time (or part-time) employee, it’s important to find intern talent that strongly identifies with your company culture and values. This way they will embody an inherent dedication to what you stand for. I recently learned that hiring a quality intern 100% begins with me as the employer.
The first time I attempted to hire an intern I was pretty young—in my mid 20’s. I hired a senior in high school who approached me because she was very passionate about fashion. Her school agreed to give her credit for the job, but due to my inexperience, I didn’t conduct a formal hiring or vetting process. Without many questions, I hired her and we began work.
Her daily responsibilities consisted of whatever tasks arose that I needed help with for the day. From my own personal experience as an intern, this “by the seat of your pants” manner of working with interns can be pretty common. However, it’s not how to get maximum mutual benefit out of their assistance.
In this instance, because I didn’t provide my young intern with guidelines, structure or much responsibility, we only worked together for about a month before I had to let her go. One day, I gave her my credit card to pick up a few items in the fashion district. She proceeded to take taxis everywhere she went throughout the day, charging my card instead of taking the subway. I was in disbelief.
I held two internships when I was in college, during which I could have never imagined using my boss’ credit card to take taxis around the city. During my internship as a fashion stylist, I carried heavy garment bag upon garment bag of clothes, shoes and accessories, returning to designers around the city. I walked in the snow, took the bus and rode the subway, but never a car.
Unfortunately, I had to let my first intern go and report to her school the reason why. But ultimately it was my fault for not properly training her.
This summer my team and I are planning brand introduction events in Manhattan and Washington, D.C., similar to the one we held in Cincinnati last November. As spring began, I knew I needed to hire an intern but was nervous about where and how to recruit one. Luckily the talent ended up approaching me.
I originally met our new intern, Lila, in 2014 when she was a high school student interning for the Global Good Fund (GGF), a Washington, D.C. based leadership development organization where I was in my first year as a fellow. During the GGF annual gala, Lila pulled me aside and showed me a presentation she did on my social enterprise on her laptop.
I was incredibly moved by her work. She was 16 at the time and already very focused.
Lila and I reconnected after I sent out the company’s first branded newsletter to my network this past March. She loved the newsletter and reached out to me, asking if we could officially collaborate in the near future. She was now a freshman NYU studying at Gallatin’s School of Individualized Studies.
I prepared for Lila’s interview by outlining the things I was looking for in a summer intern, asking her what she wanted to gain from the position, and making sure those things matched. I made sure the time the position required was a fit for what time she could offer. I did research on her school experience and asked her questions about her family, her passions and what she ultimately wants to do in her career.
Then, I shared the basics about the brand. She was already very familiar with our DNA due to the project she did while at GGF. I shared what we had done since we last connected (winning a business plan contest, launching a fair-trade production program in Ghana), where we want to go and what we need to get there.
Then I moved into the position requirements. I shared specifics about the approaching brand events and what her responsibilities would be. I also shared the digital skills and tools in which she would need proficiency in order to manage her position, while opening the door for her to offer additional project management tools I may not be aware of (millennials will astound you with their technical knowledge).
Lila gave me her resume and updated me on what she had been doing since her position at GGF: She cowrote a book and successfully crowdfunded the capital to have it published and marketed. She was also maintaining a 4.0 GPA at NYU and had been accepted into NYU’s School of Global Leadership in D.C. for the fall 2016 semester. She had numerous other accolades, including being a presenter for TED and being the student organizer for NYU’s Entrepreneur festival.
Hiring, daily work and responsibilities
I realized quickly that Lila and I shared a compatibility in our passions and work style, so I hired her during the interview. We decided that her accomplishments and experience awarded her a title past “intern” and her official title would be “Collegiate Ambassador and Summer Assistant.”
I knew that I had quality talent on my hands, and it was my responsibility to make sure she had the right tools to make the experience fruitful for both of us. The second time we met, we reviewed samples and the brand mood board, providing a visual and tactile counterpart to her understanding of the brand. I further outlined the position’s responsibilities, which included: • Managing me. They say that a good assistant manages her boss—keeps her calendar, reminds her of deadlines and keeps her on task with the micro-items so the higher-up can keep her vision clear to manage big picture items.
• Acting as event steward for attendees, keeping them abreast on developments and letting them know she is there for them for any need they may have.
• Managing the guest list and RSVPs—making sure that if one attendee can’t make it that their space is filled.
• Making sure all event vendors are sourced and arrive to location on time.
• Managing the overall event calendar and project communication boards.
In order for us to be on the same page, I outlined all rules and guidelines in a document along with a non-disclosure agreement for us both to execute. Every day prior to us meeting, I send Lila the agenda for the following day.
So far she has been an invaluable resource working with me to develop the event calendar, plan our vendors, writing copy for attendee communications and reaching out to high-level executives from our attendee list to confirm their RSVPs.
There was a bit of magic apparent in me successfully hiring our collegiate ambassador (intern). When that informal magic is balanced with an extreme professionalism on both our parts, it creates the results I had envisioned for our brand’s summer events.
I’ve learned that interns thrive on structure and clear expectations. I’m excited to see what we produce as she joins my small team of women who understand the DNA of what the brand is about and are committed to building it from the ground up.
Meet Our Summer Collegiate Intern- Lila! Autumn Adeigbo shirt and dress; RJ Graziano Jewelry