The One Quality That Defines a Great Intern
College can be a great time of your life. Between earning your degree and growing as a young adult, the ages of 18-23ish (Tommy Boy took seven years for his history major) are some of the most formative years experienced by humans. However, there are many tasks and/or responsibilities that are not learned in the classroom that can be some of the most important skills once a young professional enters the workforce. I’m sure you can think of a few lessons or topics that would have made for great college classes, but instead you were left to fend for yourself during the first days and weeks of your job.
College interns have provided some of the most fun, educational, and grateful moments of my professional career thus far, and I want to take this opportunity to encourage any and all young professionals to seek the opportunity to work with and/or manage interns if you have the chance. Below I am going to share the one quality that I weigh most heavily when selecting an intern and how this approach has paid off for me and my company.
For both myself and my company, I would rate “initiative” as the most important characteristic of an intern. The ability to take educated risks with projects, ask for more work if need be, and tackle problems that others may not see is highly coveted in the work force today and even more so in small business. I understand that me sharing my appreciation for initiative is not an earth shattering lesson, but there are a couple items I want to touch on with it.
First, is that I want to identify candidates with initiative early in the interview process. Two easy ways that this can be identified? Measuring and evaluating the follow-up etiquette of your candidates. A simple thank you note following an interview goes a long way. Calling into the office to inquire about a position instead of just applying online goes a long way. Candidates who executed the above two habits have a 100% hire rate with me. I know it sounds basic, but it only sounds basic because it is!
Second is actually for employers out there. I have heard many times, “We are too small for an intern” or “it would take too long to get them up to speed or train them on our company.” Let me just come out and say it, you are wrong. Is an intern going to understand every single minute detail about your product and business processes immediately upon starting? No, but do they need to? No! I promise that if you sit down and think for 5 minutes about what you actually spend time on during your day at work, that there are multiple hours spent on tasks that you could hire and train an intern to AT LEAST help with throughout the day. If not, cheers to you for being smarter than me!
One of my favorite lessons that I was taught through my training with the Marine Corps is the 80/20 rule. This rule states that an 80% solution today is better than a 100% solution tomorrow which was coined to encourage action and initiative rather than passiveness or temerity. I apply the same rules with my interns! If an intern can get a project or assignment 80% of the way “there” then I can wrap up the final 20% and finalize any loose ends on their part.
What 80% could an intern assist you and your team with given the opportunity?