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4 tips to improve your firm’s internship program
By Chloé Moore
In 2020, three colleagues and I co-founded BLatinX Internship Inc. (BLX). This internship program provides an entry point into the financial planning profession for Black and Latinx financial planners and offers a talent pipeline for financial planning firms that want more diverse team members.
In addition to launching the program, several of us hosted interns last summer. At the end of the inaugural program, we conducted one-on-one exit interviews with each participating firm. We also surveyed the interns and spoke with several about their experiences.
Through feedback, we learned many valuable lessons about what makes internships both successful and memorable. Four major themes stood out from our conversations. If you’re looking to hire an intern, consider these tips.
1. Understand the purpose of an internship and your objectives
To provide a quality internship experience, firms should be clear on their reason for hiring an intern, how they can benefit from doing so, and what the intern can expect.
The purpose of an internship is to expose interns to their desired career path in a professional setting. Interns have the opportunity to observe the financial planning process, complete meaningful tasks, and make professional connections. The intern can learn new skills and explore potential career paths.
Internships are not just advantageous for the interns; they also provide countless benefits to firms. Interns can provide relief to employees by completing important tasks or projects often shifted down the priority list. They can bring a fresh set of eyes, offering new ideas, skillsets, and energy. Firms are also building a potential pipeline of talent.
2. Consider tasks and assignments for the intern ahead of time
The most successful internships include a wide range of tasks instead of menial projects or grunt work. When considering assignments, ask yourself two questions: 1) How can the intern help your firm? and 2) How can you best prepare the intern for a career in financial planning?
Have your intern participate in client meeting preparation. Also, consider having your intern attend client meetings as an observer, after you have made it clear that all information must be kept confidential. General client service tasks—like reviewing financial documents, researching planning topics, and preparing account paperwork—provide valuable learning opportunities.
In addition to ongoing tasks related to client meetings or client service, consider projects that can expand the intern’s knowledge about other aspects of the business. For example:
- General marketing—Your intern can review your online presence and provide feedback.
- Client presentations—Your intern can review client deliverables and provide feedback on both aesthetics and ease of comprehension.
- Operations manual—Your intern can document processes as they complete them or review recorded tasks and suggest updates to your existing operations manual.
- Client record updates—Your intern can review client contact records or files to ensure the information is up to date.
Considering tasks and assignments ahead of time helps you decide what skill sets are important when choosing an intern. That way, you can find the right fit for your firm’s needs.
3. Define your onboarding, training, and wrap-up processes
In addition to defining your objectives for the internship and being thoughtful about the intern’s assignments before they arrive, it’s important to define processes that you can repeat from year to year. Thoughtful onboarding, training, and wrap-up can allow you to provide a consistent experience for all interns who work for your firm.
Treat the intern as you would any new team member. This might include the following:
- Assign the intern a point of contact and set expectations upfront.
- Offer an overview of the company and introduce the intern to all team members.
- If the intern will interact with clients, make an introduction via email or your company newsletter.
- Introduce the interns to your technology tools and explain common workflows or processes.
- Provide any equipment the intern may need if working virtually, or set up their desk before they arrive.
Training can include a combination of job shadowing, discussing client cases, self-paced learning, and meaningful tasks. You should also make room for continuing education opportunities in which the intern can improve their technical skills. Invite the intern to attend association meetings, conferences, and webinars as time allows.
When wrapping up the internship, have an honest conversation and provide constructive feedback so your intern can learn and grow. Ask the intern about their experience and how they feel your firm can improve. You should also set expectations about the time after the internship. Would you like to keep in touch? Can they come back for a future internship? Is there an opportunity for full-time employment?
4. Make the internship a unique and unforgettable experience
Many of the BLX participant firms did more than the bare minimum to offer unique experiences to the interns. Here are a few of our favorite examples as suggestions:
- Provide opportunities for social interactions, such as lunches, happy hours, or team-building exercises. One firm arranged a special meeting for their intern so the team members could learn more about each other. Each team member brought a few photos and fun facts to share with the group. This allowed the intern to bond with the team over favorite sports teams, shared hobbies, and special interests.
- If the intern is virtual (we encourage all firms to have virtual interns to increase the potential pool of diverse candidates), consider flying them out to meet the team. A few firms mentioned flying their intern to the office for a week. This trip served two purposes: It allowed the intern to connect with the team outside of the virtual world and, for some interns, allowed them to experience their first business trip.
- Ask the intern to complete a research project and present their findings. One firm hosted several interns and asked each one to choose a topic they were interested in or passionate about. Examples included planning for immigrant communities, cross-border planning, and the pros and cons of adding tax preparation to their practice. The firm provided resources and introductions to experts to help the interns with their research. The projects gave the interns an opportunity to add value to both the firm and the profession.
Hosting an intern is a commitment that should not be taken lightly. An intern’s experience at your firm could be their introduction to the profession of financial planning. Being thoughtful and intentional can make the experience both successful and memorable for all parties.
Chloé Moore, CFP®, is the founder of Financial Staples, a virtual, fee-only firm based in Atlanta and serving clients nationwide. Her firm serves tech employees who are entrepreneurial-minded, philanthropic, and purpose-driven. You can learn more about her at financialstaples.com.
image credit: istock.com/Charday Penn