This week, Small Business editor Caitlin Sykes talks to business owners about interns.

Nick Harvey is the managing director of Auckland-based boutique sponsorship and experiential marketing agency SPUR.

Why have you taken on interns in your business?

We've taken on a lot of interns over the 14 years we've been in business. The benefits are we get an extra set of hands when things get hectic, as well as a chance to give young people some exposure to the field that they've trained in, and the reward of helping them out as they start their career. We've also ended up offering jobs to some interns at the end of their time so it can be a nice recruitment strategy.

How do you source your interns?

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They generally just email us, and they come from a range of university courses. We'll then arrange a time to meet them for a coffee, and from that first impression we get a reasonable idea of whether they'll fit in well with the team. We also need to get a feel for how busy they are in their lives, because if they're going to do well with us they have to be pretty hard workers; attitude and work ethic are often more of a consideration for us than what particular course they're doing or their specific technical skills.

What sort of things do your interns do in the business?

Our most recent intern was a Massey University business student, who came in on a weekly basis for about three months and finished up in August. We took him on as an extra sets of hands, which is always useful to have around, and he was great.

We're pretty up front with our interns when they start. We tell them they're going to get some mundane assignments along the way, but we try to make sure those are complemented by some more significant tasks and projects. It generally takes us a few weeks to gauge the potential of an intern and the subsequent opportunities that are directed their way depend on the ability they're demonstrating. The best case scenario is they end up working beneath one of our account managers, helping to deliver a brand activation campaign from start to finish.

What sort of things do you do to support an intern, either before, during or after their time in your workplace?

We have an office manual that lets them know everything they need when it comes to our organisational processes and administration. We also assign someone as a 'mentor'. More often than not they use their own laptop, but otherwise we give them a loan machine. Some interns have ended up with a work mobile as well but that depends on how significant their role becomes - and the need for a phone or other connectivity at events and so on. Our interns often maintain a level of contact with us post-placement by joining our part-time or promotional team but aside from that there isn't a lot in the way of follow up apart from dealing with any of their course paperwork.

What are some of the challenges you've come across having an intern in the workplace?

One challenge can be assigning them meaningful tasks if we're a bit quiet. Most of our interns are unpaid so financially they aren't a burden. When it comes to mentoring and support, we're a small business of 16 permanent staff, and the structure is very flat so they end up engaging with everybody in the team during their time. The 'mentor' role becomes more or less relevant depending on how their work content evolves. Some might end up working exclusively on one client, in which case they work closely with one or two full timers, but some end up in more of a floating capacity.

What advice would you have for another business owner considering taking on an intern?

Be honest from the outset about what you can offer them. We often position this as 'worst case you could spend a day tidying the storeroom, best case you will go to client meetings and effectively take the role of an account executive on delivering some projects. At a minimum you'll get to see how a business like ours works and finish up with a clearer idea of whether this is an industry you want to work in long term'.