The role of an intern in a small business: How to find the right fit

As a small business owner, have you ever wondered about the true potential of having an intern on your team? The role of an intern in a small business is often underestimated, but the truth is they are the key to providing small businesses with valuable help, unlocking hidden opportunities and untapped potential. In this article, we'll reveal the secrets to finding the right fit for both the employer and intern, and how this symbiotic relationship can propel your business to new heights. Keep reading to discover the true role of an intern in a small business and how to find the right fit.
January 25, 2023
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As a small business owner, have you ever wondered about the true potential of having an intern on your team? The role of an intern in a small business is often underestimated, but the truth is they are the key to providing small businesses with valuable help, unlocking hidden opportunities and untapped potential. 

In this article, we'll reveal the secrets to finding the right fit for both the employer and intern, and how this symbiotic relationship can propel your business to new heights. Keep reading to discover the true role of an intern in a small business and how to find the right fit.

How can interns help my business?

Interns can be an important part of your team, and they can help your small business in a number of ways. For example, they can help you build a strong team. If you have multiple interns, they can learn from each other and grow as individuals while also providing new perspectives and ideas that might not have occurred to you or the rest of your employees. A smart intern will also be able to spot opportunities for improvement that would otherwise go unnoticed by everyone else—and if they are motivated to learn and take on projects, there’s no telling how much they could help transform your team and small business!

They can also help expand your business. If an intern has marketable skills, they may be able to help out with projects outside of their normal responsibilities as well as offer feedback on existing products or services provided by other departments within the company (particularly if those departments haven't been doing so well). For instance: An intern with a passion for HTML coding might recommend website updates; one who learns Photoshop could offer free mockups for future flyers, etc.

How do I find a good quality intern?

So, you're a small business owner and you want to find an intern. You already know that having an intern can be beneficial for your company, but how do you find someone who is both qualified and a good fit for your organization? 

Make sure they're a good culture fit. You want a person who comes in every day enjoying their job so they'll continue working hard and learning from their experience with your company. For example, if your culture is based on teamwork, an intern who wants to work on projects alone all day long without collaborating with other employees might not be the best fit for your organization.

Be sure to ask for references from previous employers, as this will indicate whether they have proven to be reliable individuals who have worked well with others in previous roles. Ensure that these references check out–if they don't exist at all or if they don't seem legitimate (e.g., giving only one name), then proceed with caution when interviewing them later on down the line.

Don't let a lack of funds get in the way of finding and hiring a skilled intern

If the cost of hiring an intern is holding you back from doing so, there are ways to go about it without breaking the bank.

  • Government wage subsidies and grants can help offset the cost of a qualified employee—including interns. Consult your local economic development agency for up to date government funding programs.
  • Work with student talent while they're still in college, supervised by their professors, with an in-class project through Riipen. Based around the academic year, learners can work individually or in groups at no cost as they receive academic credit. You could collaborate with several groups of learners enrolled in a variety of courses, helping you move forward with multiple projects at once.
  • If you're based in Canada, consider using Riipen Level UP, which pays students a $1,400 CAD stipend per 80-hour (2-8 week long) remote internship. This program is best suited for organizations who need the help of an intern on a short-term basis for a clearly defined project.
  • Contact the CO-OP department at your local college or university. Learners enrolled there may be able to earn academic credit while working with your business on projects that align with their program requirements. Additionally, this type of partnership helps ensure continuity of operations while enabling learners' professional development through hands-on experience and networking opportunities with industry professionals.

Decide the specific tasks and responsibilities you want the intern to take on

Before hiring an intern, it’s important to think about what tasks and responsibilities you want them to take on. For example, if you have a lot of low-risk, repetitive work that can be done by an intern, consider assigning them some of those tasks. On the other hand, if you are looking for help with research or analysis work, consider creating a project specifically for your intern.

Most small businesses have a need for administrative or support style tasks which typically involve answering phone calls and emails from customers (either inbound or outbound), updating social media accounts, and gathering information from other departments within the business (such as marketing). This type of work will probably be similar for every type of business, large or small.

Clearly defined tasks help ensure satisfaction both from the intern’s perspective as they know what they need to do and work toward achieving the desired outcome, as well as for the employer who’s expecting clear results. 

"We partnered with Riipen and two students enrolled in a prominent graduate studies program on the West Coast for a win/win/win!!!” said Kenneth Zaves, VP Sales & Marketing at Pharmaceutic Litho and Label Co, located Simi Valley, California. “The results exceeded our expectations and we are proud to share the work that was completed on our Social Media platforms with customers and prospects all over the world."

Give interns a purpose and make them feel valued

The most important thing you can do as a small business owner is to make sure interns feel like they have a purpose. It's hard enough when they're first starting out, but giving them a meaningful reason to work hard will go a long way toward keeping them engaged and positive. This can make all the difference in the work done by the intern and the impact on your small business.

Asking interns to help with tasks that support the overall business will show them you value their input and encourage them to take initiative on their own projects. Additionally, asking for feedback on how things are going at your company helps give interns an opportunity to practice their communication skills by providing constructive criticism—or even praise, if necessary.

Finally, consider becoming an intern's mentor instead of just another boss; being open about your experiences in the industry with openness and candor can help demystify what it takes for them to get started on the right foot and succeed.

Take it from Dorinda Byers, principal of D Byers & Associates, located in Marietta, Ohio, is one of many employers grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with interns and student talent through Riipen. “Thank you so much for making a difference for our company and for leveling the playing field to allow small companies to have access to high-quality university talent in a smooth and effective manner," says Dorinda. “And, thank you for giving us the chance to mentor some students and give back in a way that students can leverage for their career futures.”

Consider how you can provide an intern with real skills that will take them far in their future career

A good intern should be able to leave your company with real skills and knowledge that will help them in their future career. To ensure that happens, you need to be clear on what kind of project or task they’re working on and how it relates to the business.

You might think that giving an intern too much responsibility will make them feel overwhelmed or like they don’t have enough time for schoolwork. However, by providing them with a manageable number of tasks and clear goals, your intern will be more likely to succeed—and achieve something tangible at the end of their internship experience.

For example, if one of your small business' goals is to increase social media engagement by 50%, ask an intern what steps or actions could help get there—and give them some freedom to execute those ideas within your budget (and timeframe).


If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance that you are looking for interns to join your company. As the owner of a small business, you know that an intern can be a valuable asset for your small business, that is if you find the right match. Make sure that you clearly communicate the responsibilities that are expected of an intern, as well as their specific skills and qualifications. This will allow you to find someone who is qualified, committed, and excited to work with you. 

The truth is that every intern will be different; however, there are some key factors that every great intern should possess. For example, they need to be driven by curiosity and eagerness to learn new things. This will help foster innovation, creativity, and forward thinking to take your business to new heights.

They should want to make an impact on the world around them through their work. This shows that they want their efforts to contribute to solving important problems and making a difference in society. They have a sense of purpose and are driven by a desire to make a meaningful impact. 

Whether you’re a startup, a solopreneur with ambitious plans, or a small business owner with a desire for growth, sign in or create your free Riipen employer account and access student talent from 430+ universities and colleges in Canada, US, UK, and Australia.

Already have a Riipen account? Publish a project!

Sign Up Now

About the author:

Jennifer Lussier is a bilingual Content Marketing Specialist based in Montreal, QC. With a multidisciplinary background and a desire to accomplish more for the betterment of society, she joined Riipen in 2019 as an Academic Account Manager and has since migrated to the marketing team as it is more closely aligned with her interests and expertise.

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