Don't Let Your Interns Destroy Your Company

business child kid computer intern

Note: This post originally appeared on OPEN Forum.

At first glance, this seems like a great idea: Cut costs by hiring low-cost or unpaid interns. Why not? You’ll have yourself an inexpensive staffing solution, and your new employees will benefit by getting much-needed experience and (perhaps) a salary.

Trouble is, bringing interns on board is a lot trickier than you might think. And do it wrong and you can waste a lot of time and money—or even risk alienating clients. 

The key, according to Rich Sloan, co-founder of, a leading advisory site for entrepreneurs, lies in your management techniques. “Interns can sap as much energy as they contribute if you’re not careful,” he says. “You really need to have a clear plan in place.”

Click here to see 6 strategies for getting the most out of your interns >

Map out the intern's duties

Before the person starts, make sure you know--and have put in writing--exactly what the job will entail. The most effective tack is to assign the intern to specific projects--finite tasks that should take a month or so to complete. Sloan points to a recent hire whose first assignment was to research potential competitors to a new business offering. The job was done so well, he considered hiring the intern full-time.

At the same time, be flexible. During the course of the first project, try to observe the individual's particular skill sets. If something comes up that seems more appropriate, then you can reassign the person to a new task.

Appoint a supervisor

That might be you or the person ultimately responsible for the tasks the intern has been assigned. Whoever the manager is, however, those supervisory duties have to be taken seriously. Perhaps most important, check in regularly with the intern -- daily at first, then weekly as time goes by and you feel more confident in the individual's abilities.

Start them out with code of conduct

On the first day, explain the rules--everything from dress code to when they're expected to arrive at work. Even if some points seem silly, it's best to err on the side of too much information. (No flip flops or playing music, for example). If they're going to have contact with clients, be sure to explain the expectations for behaviour under those circumstances.

Begin with a team

Consider the size of your company

Step in quickly if there are problems

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