Interns in the IT department are great. They bring energy and enthusiasm. I have had success using interns in two areas: Help Desk and Business Analysts. There are some challenges, but the rewards are great. Let’s look closer.
Setting up an intern program is straightforward. Decide how many your department can financially afford and that your team has the capacity to support. Work with the local high school and colleges. Pay them a decent wage. Give them interesting tasks to do. Start the program in the summer when they can work full-time. When they go back to school in the fall, they have learned enough to contribute even if part-time.
Hire interns based on energy and drive and a willingness to try new things. You will teach them the technical part of the job. You want someone who is eager to work, who will find work to do when they finish all their assigned tasks. You want someone you have to work to stay ahead of. You want someone you won’t have to push.
For Help Desk interns, look to local high schools or 2-year technical colleges. Have them shadow one of your Help Desk staff to learn the ropes. Try to give them tickets to solve on their own as soon as possible, even on the first day.
For Business Analyst interns, look to the 4-year colleges. Find the ones that are interested in computers but have a bit of people skills. Have them shadow a Business Analyst and start delegating tasks to them. Writing up notes from a requirements meeting, following up with a user on a question, or testing an application update. At the beginning, they will go between the users and the Business Analyst, but they will learn fast and start working on their own soon enough.
There is a temptation to give interns grunt work. Clean up 10,000 records in a database. Clean up these old computers. It is ok to do this for a few hours at a time once in a while. After all, not every task in a job is completely awesome, and there are tasks that make sense for a lower-paid position to do. But work hard to make these tasks interesting. For example, instead of going through the records one at a time to clean them, have them try writing a script to clean up the 10,000 records. It may take longer, but it will be more interesting and the intern will learn a useful skill (as well as the importance of keeping a database clean).
One side benefit of having interns is that you learn who your leaders are on your team. There will be one or two that will gravitate to working with the intern — teaching, mentoring, helping them. Those are the people that are your future leaders. Or, if you already know your future leaders, give them one or two interns to work with to develop their skills.
Interns come with their own skills sets and interests. As with full-time employees, dig into that and build on their strengths. Find out what they want to do with their career and make sure they are showing progress in that direction. They are a great addition to the team.
And when the interns inevitably graduate, you either have someone you can hire into your organization or someone you have launch into an IT career.