What can you do if you are already at your limit but your company refuses to hire more staff?
You just hire a bunch of interns.
That’s exactly what I did back in my days as a Senior IT Project Manager. In fact, I had a whole army of interns working for me!
Back then, my workload was huge:
- I was managing a large SAP rollout which required traveling abroad and managing a distributed team spread across 3 continents
- I had to do quite a bit of IT support
- I had to carry out IT audits within my division, which required chasing people from other departments to get the input I needed
- Being a highly-motivated employee, I also wanted to make an impact in the organization and help improve our processes and communication within our division.
As you can guess, I had a lot on my plate. It was more what you would typically give to an individual employee.
And the thing was: Our management wouldn’t allow hiring additional staff.
I had to be creative in finding ways to become more efficient and reduce my workload.
And while we were not able to open new full-time positions, every department could hire as many interns as they wanted.
So that’s what we did … and at any given moment, I’d have 3-5 interns reporting to me.
What I looked for in intern candidates
In terms of formal education, I looked for college/university students enrolled in a technical or business/management degree at an advanced level, such as computer science or a combined degree like business computing. These were the skills we needed in our department.
Good math skills! It makes a big difference when you have people with strong logical reasoning skills. Our world is so complex nowadays, and you need people who can deal with complexity.
On top of that, I looked for students who had good social skills. People you could throw into a group of strangers (imagine a workshop), and they would quickly adapt and get comfortable in the situation, start conversations and figure out on their own how they could add value to the team.
Above all, I was looking for students who showed drive, energy and ambition.
Students who wanted to be challenged.
Students who were hungry to learn.
People who were intrinsically motivated, meaning they showed a natural interest in their field and they were not just in a program for reasons of status or money.
When you have intrinsically motivated people, assigning work becomes so much easier. You don’t have to tell them to do a job. They want to do the work to learn and grow.
I remember one of my interns, Samuel, approaching me 5 minutes before a kick-off:
“Adrian, can I present the slides about the requirements workshop and how business is supposed to contribute? ”
I was so impressed! Samuel actually wanted to do part of the presentation himself — in front of a huge crowd – something he had never done before. I agreed, and he did a terrific job.
What kind of work did I give to my interns?
In many companies, interns only get to do BS work: cleaning the coffee machine, printing labels, copying files, collecting mail etc.
Initially, this was what I thought interns would mainly be doing.
But as I told you, I was looking for real support because I was drowning in work. So I needed interns who could step up and take over pieces of my work in a reliable, “good enough” manner. So I wasn’t afraid of giving away more responsibility.
Here are some tasks I gave to my interns:
- Working with our functional teams to create test cases for upcoming tests
- Creating training documentation
- Following up with task owners (“What’s the status of …?”)
- Conducting research for upcoming projects (“What are legal requirements for foreign suppliers operating in Mexico?”)
- Answering IT support calls and performing user administration
- Purchasing office supplies
- Onboarding and training new interns
One of my interns even got to travel with me in business class! Together, we flew to the customer’s site where we were carrying out an intense 2-week integration test, and I knew my intern could help me immensely in coordinating the test.
Why interns are great
Like I said before, motivation is a huge factor when you are looking for great employees, whether it’s interns or regular staff. With a team of highly-motivated people, you can accomplish a lot more and the quality of work remains high.
PLUS: Motivation can make up for a lack of skills and experience (my interns were proof of that).
If you want to really benefit from hiring interns: You must learn to delegate!
Whether it’s a regular employee or an intern, it always takes some time for people to learn how the work should be done. You just coach them, provide honest feedback and have a bit of patience! Also, let them join you in meetings so they can observe you at work. And in no time you will have a valuable resource who can support you in all sorts of tasks – big or small – and you’ll actually feel your workload decreasing.
Don’t just hire interns. Hire future employees
What is great about internships is you can see how these young people perform in real-world situations. Do they learn quickly? Are they able to adapt to the company culture? Are they fully committed and motivated?
Internships provide an excellent testing ground for new talent. You can see if the candidates do a great job and if they have the skills needed, and if they fit the company culture – all without the risk that comes with any long-term contract. If you like the intern’s work, why not offer them a permanent job once one becomes available? Many of our top interns were offered permanent positions.
That’s my story of working with interns. I want to encourage you to try hiring interns as well. There are probably a lot of tasks that can be delegated to a college/university student after a bit of training. The students will gain valuable work experience, and you can reduce your workload – it’s a win-win!
Work smarter, not harder 🙂