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Five Steps For Using Interns

Interns can be a black-hole for time and energy if not approached properly. Through practical experience--both coaching advisors and developing an intern program at the Oechsli Institute--we have developed five fairly simple steps to follow.

Philadelphia: “I keep hearing about advisors who swear by the value they're getting from interns, but we've always had, at best, mixed results," said Jack, who then asked, "Do you have any suggestions?”

Interns can be a black-hole for time and energy if not approached properly. Jack's frustration is a signal that he has yet to invest the time and energy required to develop an effective intern program. Yet, with advance planning, interns can be a tremendous resource for a 21st century financial practice.

Through practical experience--both coaching advisors and developing an intern program at the Oechsli Institute--we have developed five fairly simple steps to follow. Are they flawless? In my experience, no. Whenever you deal with human nature, especially the compatibility of the young and the mature, nothing is infallible. But these steps should help improve your process of both selecting and making good use of the interns you bring into your practice.

1. Defining the Job. This is a critical first step. The University of Arkansas' Walton College of Business offers the following advice to employers: "Simple as it may sound, advance planning is the key to a successful internship program. Hiring an intern only to have that person sit idle, waiting for someone to assign a project, is not productive for either you or the student. Don't approach your internship program as an afterthought. Rather, consider it an important element of your staffing plan."

You will want to create a hybrid of grunt work that is easily delegated and work that challenges an intern intellectually.

2. Finding Applicants. Your local colleges and universities are brimming with students in need of part time labor. Every school has a career services department whose purpose is to help students find employment, starting with internships while they're still in school. With a quick call into these institutions, you'll find their career services departments should be eager to meet with you.

If need be, you can also post ads on, in your local newspaper, or anywhere else that might be seen by these budding young professionals.

However, simply finding a source of applicants isn't enough. It is important to develop a healthy relationship with the individuals in charge of such programs. This involves getting a full understanding of what they are looking for in terms of the experience for the intern and communicating the job description clearly.

3. Screening Candidates. If the job description is appealing enough and/or the pay is right, you'll have several qualified applicants vying for the job. Even though this new hire won't be the most critical person on your team, you'll want to make certain you have the right person in the role. Speaking from experience, whenever you have an intern who isn't motivated to learn and is somewhat self-directed, you've created a managerial burden that can easily negate any added value that intern might provide.

You might need a couple of interviews to determine whether or not this person is bright enough for the role, willing to do the work required of them, and capable of getting along with everyone. You'll also want to be sure they have the same time horizon as you do. If they're only looking for summer work, unless you have a summer time project or some emergency need, take a pass. We always look for interns who can commit to between 12 to 24 months.

4. Establishing Expectations. You'll get more out of your intern if you're very clear about what you expect from him or her. This initial setup takes some planning, but it's well worth the effort. You want to be clear about the expected hours (knowing that a student's schedule must be somewhat flexible), the daily/weekly tasks they must perform, how the tasks are to be performed, how they should dress, to whom they directly report, how and when they should report progress to the team, and so on. Take an hour or so to put all of this on paper and schedule an introductory meeting with your new intern.

This step creates the framework for a successful relationship.

5. Managing the Internship. As the old management saying goes, "you want to inspect what you expect." So keep up regular communication with your intern, making sure he or she reports progress on a regular basis. We have found weekly accountability reporting to be helpful to both the intern and to your practice.

You will want to be as specific as possible when defining the tasks your intern will be responsible for. You're better off saying, "update and then input 50 Platinum client profiles into our new database by May 20th", than saying "update and input clients into our new database."

These five steps are merely a guideline. The key to making good use of interns is first identifying a need that an intern could fill. If you and/or your associates are doing tasks that can be handled by someone with less experience (at less pay), and your firm allows you to hire interns, there's a need. The objective is for the financial advisors on your team to spend as much time as possible with their best clients, prospects and centers of influence. If an intern can make that happen more often, even if it's a 2 percent improvement, it's well worth the money.

Not to mention, you never know when you might stumble upon an intern with great connections or great aptitude for client service or sales. At a minimum, this person could provide you with introductions. At best, they could end up being a long-term contributing member of your team.

If you would like more information on developing an effective intern program download a FREE copy of our Internship Tips from The Experts Report, at our Download Center. This is a compilation of excerpts from leading sources on how to hire and get the most value from your internship program.

Once again, we want to thank all of you who have emailed comments and questions to us. We will continue to do our best to answer each one.

If you have any topic suggestions or special requests, please contact Rich Santos, publisher of Registered Rep. and Trust & Estates magazines, at [email protected].

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