Keep Interns Engaged

July 26, 2008

It’s been a tough summer for my internship program. We rolled into June with three college students who were interested in spending up to 10-15 hours a week as an unpaid intern with my web development company. After having lost touch with our most promising guy, we’re down to zero interns.

A spate of bad luck? Yes. Could we have managed our interns better? No doubt. You could say we got what we paid for. But I’m not buying it.

I’m personally frustrated because after directly overseeing two successful internships last summer, I stepped back and let someone else run with it this time. After all, the interns were directly reporting to that person anyway.

Bottom line: We didn’t do enough to keep our interns engaged. It’s a lesson learned.

What was different from a year ago? Well, last summer:

+ We set office hours on a week-to-week basis. Be versatile, but insist on getting your intern in the office at least once a week. Rising gas prices probably hurt us more this time around.

+ We gave them general tasks at first, even if it had nothing to do with the skill they were interesting in learning. That way, when they did get to do work related to their field, it was as much a reward as anything. They appreciated the opportunity more.

+ Talk to your intern. Make sure they are satisfied with the general experience. To be fair, one of our interns jumped ship to take a full-time job (related to but not directly tied to his skill set) with benefits.

+ Dangle a carrot. Offer a cash bonus at the successful conclusion of the internship. Or better yet, the possibility of a part-time job.

I’m headed to a job fair this week. The goal is to land another intern or two. I’ll be thinking about our hits and misses from the last year and ways I can personally improve the intern experience. And I’ll take more of a leading role in keeping our interns engaged.

Unpaid and inexperienced they may be, but for a small firm like mine, interns are a godsend.

Blog originally posted at LI

No Reason To Fear Transparency

July 17, 2008

I’m currently in the wilds of New York state on business. I ran into an unexpected road block yesterday — and no, construction limiting traffic to one lane isn’t what I’m talking about. (Although the wait was excruciating!)

I met with the manager of a mall to pitch her on upgrading their web site. What I thought was a glaring omission on the mall’s current site — namely, lack of a diagram of the mall detailing shops, kiosks and restaurants — was actually by design.

The mall’s web site was deficient in so many other ways. But ultimately, the manager rejected the need for a revamped web site, and if I read between the lines correctly, it was because the mall didn’t want to advertise its current state.

Let’s face it, signs of economic downturn are everywhere. In much of New York outside of the City, that’s been true for many years now. Mall management (and ownership) seem to think that not publishing an interactive map of the mall — which might show some vacancies — is an easy way to hide the current state of the place.

Wrong. The people who frequent the mall know this all too well. Yes, the half-finished Steve and Barry’s superstore that will never open is a tell-tale sign of something amiss. Locals can’t be fooled. So why hide the obvious?

Instead, do the right thing by merchants who still call the mall home. Play them up in every way possible. That means an interactive web site. Who knows, you might even bring in new traffic or lure a new tennant?

Blog originally posted at LI

The Dark Side Of Networking Events

July 9, 2008

I’m a member of the Huntington Chamber of Commerce. This is a very active group with regular networking events and other opportunities that allow local merchants and professionals to mingle. I attended my first networking event in June. I saw it as an ideal place to hand out cards and introduce my new web design business.

What I wasn’t prepared for was being on the receiving end of the hard sell. Although I did leave the event with one very solid contact and lead, I also walked away with a newfound understanding of networking events. The majority of the people you meet aren’t interested in doing business. They only want to sell you.

That includes me, of course. I’m sure they don’t teach that in business school. And there’s no fine print warning you that there will be sharks at the pool party.

I’m not telling you to avoid the next invitation to a networking event. Far from it. An emerging business needs all the exposure it can get. I’m just saying be prepared to swim with sharks.

Blog originally posted at LI