Manage Your Website with a Summer Intern

“Summertime,” runs the song from the classic opera Porgy and Bess, “and the livin’ is easy.” If you run a business, the livin’ is usually no easier in summertime than at any other time. You can, however, make it a bit easier where your website is concerned by taking on a summer intern.

Why a Summer Intern?

A summer intern arrangement has important advantages for both you and the intern:

  • You have website maintenance tasks or perhaps some design or functionality upgrades you’d like to see, for which you have neither the time nor the patience to do yourself.
  • The intern has some knowledge and perhaps experience in this area and usually costs less than a full-time employee or an outside consultant.
  • You get: Your website taken care of for less time/money than you would normally spend.
  • Intern gets: Valuable work experience in a real business and some extra cash.

A summer internship can be a win-win, but you have to put some thought into it in advance, and there are some pitfalls to avoid.

Finding a Summer Intern

How do you find a good summer intern candidate? Just like with any position you are trying to fill, you need to know where to look and what to look for.

Your first stop should, of course, be your network: Friends, relatives, business partners, and loyal customers and vendors probably know someone looking for an internship position who has the skills you need.

If that doesn’t turn up anything, try the local high schools and colleges. If you need design work more than coding, you will find many potential candidates in college graphic design programs and art-oriented magnet and charter schools. If HTML and JavaScript are what you need, try the computer science programs. Most schools have some way of getting in touch with potential candidates.

And of course, there’s always Craigslist. You can find anything on Craigslist.

What should you look for? Your standard-issue intern isn’t going to have a lot of work experience—or any at all. Instead, you will need to look for evidence of maturity and responsibility, whether it’s babysitting, mowing lawns, volunteer positions, or being active in scouting or other organizations. Of course, you’ll need to see a portfolio of samples, which will mostly be projects they’ve done for school assignments or for their own amusement. Ask about how they go about tackling a new project, and ensure they have an organized, methodical approach.

Perhaps most important: Ask for references, and follow up on them, especially if the candidate is someone you do not already know well.

Managing Your Summer Intern

If you’ve never managed an intern, you may find it’s a bit different from managing a regular employee. Here are some do’s and don’ts:

DON’T assume your intern is already familiar with standard business processes and terminology; most of them are not. Time sheets, purchase orders, invoices, and even basic office etiquette may all be foreign to them. DO have some patience while they learn the ropes.

DO give your intern clear, specific tasks and goals; that is, a plan to follow over the course of the internship. The plan should include regular progress checks and milestones to ensure you are both getting what you need out of the arrangement. DON’T neglect your intern or leave him or her with a vague set of expectations.

DON’T forget that your intern is there for a specific purpose that involves your website. Your intern is not there to make coffee, file documents, write memos, or run errands. You probably have your intern for only a few weeks and perhaps only on a part-time basis, so distracting him or her with unrelated tasks is a waste of your intern’s time (and, ultimately, yours as well). DO keep your intern focused on the assigned tasks.

DO give your intern some creative latitude. Young and inexperienced though your intern might be, he or she sees your business and needs with a fresh set of eyes and may come up with ideas and solutions you would never think of. DON’T automatically disregard an idea because it came from someone who’s “just an intern.”

Above all, treat your intern like a valued member of your team and not a “fifth wheel.” The sense of accomplishment, responsibility, and value an intern feels from a successful internship is worth significantly more, in the long run, than the wages you pay. When the internship is over, you should both feel like you got something valuable from the experience. Otherwise, to quote another summertime song, “there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.”