Like many directors of small businesses, we were reluctant to take on student placements or interns (even when fully funded externally) because, let’s face it, the most valuable commodity people have is time.
The first question business owners usually ask is about ROI. The effort needed for recruiting a young person and teaching them on the job is balanced against the relatively short time – 20 days in our case – that they will spend in a business. So it’s fair to ask, what’s in it for the business?
After working successfully with three students over summer 2021 (University of Birmingham, Impact Internship, Lily, Rosie and Selina) we were convinced that even short placements can work for both sides as long as each party is well prepared and has the interests of both sides in mind. We have worked with students ever since.
Here are some takeaways and tips from us.
When recruiting, the first daunting prospect is being faced with a large number of applications, CVs and cover letters. How did we find the right person amongst all of them?
Tip 1: Make sure your advert/placement project is described as precisely and clearly as possible.
This will enable the students to understand the project better and match their skills and experiences with the described tasks. Remember, you are dealing with a group of people who are not “seasoned applicants” so build bridges and create clear pathways for them as much as possible.
Tip 2: Encourage the applicants to also give examples of their skills gained from personal experience.
Often young applicants shy away from mentioning “non-job” experiences because they don’t sound professional. But surely, we would like to hear that they helped their neighbour with shopping during lockdown or took part in community groups?
Tip 3: Set a task that simulates something they would have to do in their first week in your business.
This was a crucial selection point for us! In our first response email, and without even looking at any applications in detail, we told all applicants a little more about our business and what we would like to achieve with the internship. We then formulated a two-step task and attached it to each email response. We also set a short deadline and gave instructions about the format we expected.
We then created a scoring system in which we gave points to each answer we received. Points were also given for keeping to the deadline, spelling and grammar (as this was a position in social media marketing) and how well the applicants followed our instructions.
All applicants who reached a certain score were invited to an online interview. Out of about 40 applications we managed to select five for the interview without spending a great amount of time looking through CVs and cover letters. Remember, at this stage in life, the applicants have very little experience in the area they want to be working in. This task gave us a great basis for comparing applicants.
Tip 4: Consider taking more than one student at a time.
We decided early on that we wanted to work with two students and that we would fund the additional place if needed. In the end, we worked with three students!
There are several arguments for allowing a group of students into your business. First of all, our students supported each other. They brought different skills and experiences into the group and, by working together, they were able to sort out and answer most questions themselves. This, in turn, freed up time we otherwise would have had to invest in supporting them. The positive impact on the business was much higher. With the same recruitment effort, we found three people. The ideas and energy coming out of this group were impressive. Even within the short time they were with us over the summer, they managed to advance the project massively. Socially, and for the team dynamics, it was a successful decision too. Being a student in a business for a short time can feel very lonely and intimidating. By creating a student team, we wanted to give the interns a stronger presence within the company and we think it worked.
Final tip, always ask whether funding might be extended to more than one person and/or a longer time period. In the end, we managed to get extended funding for all three of our brilliant marketing interns!
Hear about one of our Interns’ experiences of working on this project – click here to watch Lily’s video story.