Look beyond the transcript
You are looking for an intern who is not only competent, but a good fit with your company culture as well. “GPA is a decent place to start when evaluating an intern, but don’t stop there,” says Katz. Instead, consider factors such as the courses they’ve taken, the detail and clarity in their resume and cover letter, and their experience working as part of a team. Some sponsoring firms create aptitude tests to measure a prospect’s knowledge base on planning issues to determine whether they can hit the ground running. “Soft” skills or qualities are harder to gauge from a written assessment, however, which is why an interview is such an important part of the intern-hiring process. “Communication is central to advising,” Katz says, “and you have to know how an intern is going to express themselves and interact with clients and your staff.”
Give interns real responsibility
“Firms often underestimate interns’ potential value to their business,” says Katz. “They’re saddled with menial tasks or cornered into one area of the firm where their experience is very narrow or limited.” While administrative work can be part of an intern’s role at the firm, having them run photocopies and get coffee is not leveraging their potential or helping them gain the experience they need from this position. Work to draw them into real advising and planning situations as quickly as possible. Have them research investments, help prepare reports, and—perhaps most importantly—sit in on client meetings to take notes and watch advisors work. To ensure those duties and responsibilities are varied, have interns rotate through positions across departments. It provides a holistic sense of how a firm works, lets them interact with staff, and helps them explore where their interests as a professional might lie.
Designate a supervisor
It’s valuable for interns to work with different staff members, but one person at the firm should be their primary point of contact. This supervisor oversees their entire intern experience while at the firm. This can be a good leadership opportunity for junior advisors—they can share their knowledge while learning to delegate less critical work. If you’re a solo practitioner or have a small staff, you might assume the role yourself. Either way, it’s critical the supervisor be approachable and make time for interns—scheduling weekly meetings can help. More than a way to monitor progress, initiating contact with an intern underscores your investment in what they’re doing. Assigning projects with short turnarounds also promotes communication: they’ll find they can solve problems more quickly with your guidance. “Don’t just say ‘My door is always open,’” explains Katz. “Really make the effort to engage with them.”
Set goals--and track them
Establish your expectations for an intern at the outset of a program by creating a job description they can review together with their supervisor. Consider asking the intern what he or she expects to gain from their time at your firm. These goal-setting exercises can provide you with insight into their interests, while also generating benchmarks with which to measure their growth during the program. To that end, consider scheduling regular meetings with interns to discuss their work—to identify where they’ve excelled and where they’ve struggled. Such regular feedback can help keep them on track and can reinforce the lessons they’ve learned as they progress toward the longer-term goals you’ve both set. These meetings also act as an opportunity to involve interns in new projects that match their skill sets, and to make decisions about their responsibilities going forward.
All interns should be compensated financially. For one, it’s the law: Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, interns who perform work outside of the scope of education or training have to be paid. What’s more, given the time commitment demanded by the position, it’s very challenging for students to take on paid work outside of an internship position. Paying them an hourly rate—typically somewhere between $15 and $20 an hour—helps interns cover their living expenses while giving their work with you their full attention. “Investing in your interns demonstrates your commitment to them,” says Katz. “It sends the message that you value their time and have a vested interest in their success.” By paying a wage, you also signify that you’re demanding high quality work from your interns—and that you expect them to perform as you would any paid employee of the firm.
Hold an exit interview
Dedicate a final meeting to review your intern’s time in the program, offering feedback and leaving enough time for the intern to express his or her own thoughts. Providing topic areas to review ahead of time can help interns prepare for the meeting, as well as guide them toward issues where you most want their feedback. “Interns will tell you things about your firm that you’ve never even noticed,” says Ms. Katz. “Everything from improving systems and procedures to tweaking the layout of the office.”
And if your mutual experiences were positive, you might consider offering them a position after they graduate. “In many ways, it’s the ideal outcome of an internship,” explains Katz. “If you’ve found someone who’s a great fit and has the potential to contribute to and grow with the firm in the future, it’s paid off well for both of you.”