If you've hired interns in the past, chances are you have some great stories about how successful they were ... and some stories about how the intern experience was less than enjoyable.
It's time to consider hiring interns or focusing on how to make your intern process better, especially with the staffing challenges that our profession is facing. I think it’s important to keep all potential sources of talent top of mind and also give back to the profession by helping to nurture the next generation of accounting professionals and, in some cases, the next generation of business owners.
You can do this by hiring a high school or college student. I have done both with great results, including members of the college softball team I coach, so I want to share these tips with you to help you take advantage of the energy, enthusiasm, and skills interns can bring to your practice.
- Leverage your network to find the right interns for your needs. Before you start looking, determine what you need them to do for your firm. Be clear about the scope of work and what it entails so you have a clear idea of the type of intern you need. Get help from friends, family, local schools, alumni groups, and other intern referral sources such as online job boards.
- Interview potential interns just like any other member of your team. Once you have some potential interns lined up, it’s important to make sure you vet them appropriately, just as you would any other new recruit. Think about whether their attitude, aptitude, and current experience aligns with what you need for your firm and your firm's culture.
- Provide a clear mandate for what your intern should accomplish. The vast majority of career-minded interns want to feel connected to a purpose for what they do and why they are doing it. Be sure to share with your intern what you want them to accomplish, and how it fits with your overall firm vision and mission. Be clear and specific, so there is no ambiguity and encourage your intern to ask questions to clarify what they need to do.
- Establish effective two-way communication. Make sure you work with your intern to communicate in ways that benefit both of you. Be especially clear about how to handle grievances or confusion. After all, a disgruntled intern truly may cause more harm than good, especially if they vent on social media, which may be the norm for many younger individuals. I recommend having a social media policy in place that clearly outlines how an intern should handle themselves in relation to your firm and social platforms.
- Encourage feedback and adjust your expectations accordingly. Providing input on what your intern should be doing and how they do it is one thing. However, be open to hearing feedback about the experience your intern is having as they work with you. After all, if there’s a significant generation gap, you may actually learn a few tips from your intern to do things even better than you are now and about how to retain younger team members. Be sure to keep an open mind and adjust accordingly.
- Keep in contact with successful interns. When you have a great intern in your firm, you definitely want to keep in touch because they may be a potential new employee for you in the future. In addition, they may want to continue working for you once summer is over and they return to school. Above all else, they may also become a good referral resource to find other future interns.
Make hiring your intern a win-win for all involved!
Recruiting the right intern for your firm can pay dividends, now and in the future. In the present, a great intern can help ease your burden on some tasks you or your team may not be able to get to. If they are studying finance or accounting, they can help you not only now, but potentially in the future, especially if they end up being successful and able to be an effective full-time team member when they graduate.
On the flip side, if your intern doesn’t work out, try to provide detailed feedback to help them improve in the future. By doing this, you’ll be helping them out as well as any future employers. Remember when you were in high school and college, and how grateful you would have been for a mentor as wonderful as you are? Think about paying it forward and creating that great experience for the interns you hire. By doing so, you will create the ultimate win-win for your firm, your interns, and your clients!