HEKUMU TEAM’S LEARNING FROM WORKING WITH INTERN – PART 1
Written by Suong Tran and Xiaoqing Yang-Pyydysmäki
Description of situation
After the Sales Day last November, the Hekumu team was looking at the future direction while keeping an eye on our financial situation. Due to different interests and expectations for spring, we slowed down the pace of development and adjusted everyone’s responsibilities. Esme would like to be the invisible shareholder of Hekumu since the beginning of the year, Suong and Sandy would continue the work in Hekumu.
We have decided that emptying the inventory would be Hekumu’s main target in 2022. Being a sales in Finland, proficiency in Finnish is a must which is the weak point of Sandy and Suong. Thus, we were looking for people who are interested in sales work for Hekumu. We have sent word by word of mouth that we needed a salesperson. We posted the job offer for sales inside Proakatemia. With the support of our coach Taru, we were able to deliver our recruiting message to Tredu – Tampere Vocational College and built connections with their program of Business in English. The internship is part of their studies, some of their students were looking for suitable places to practice their learning. The purpose of an internship is to have real working experience so that interns can grow their experience and skills according to what they have learned from school. The supervisor from Tredu recommended Hekumu to their students. Till now, Hekumu has had agreements with two interns.
Picture 1. 1st day working with our intern girl in Tamk event
Scope of cooperation
We scheduled interviews after we received CVs and applications from interns. Via interviews, we learned about our intern candidates’ studying experience, working experience, job content that they are interested in, and available working time. After they received offers from us, we provided Flip’s company information and assigned an instructor to be the contact person and responsible role for the interns inside the company. The instructor needs to ensure the suitability of the workplace for the contract and prepare the intern for the workplace and help them to ensure that they are aware of the responsibilities. On-job training is required accordingly when an intern needs to improve their competence and professional skill for the workplace.
Picture 2. Example of intern’s competence requirements
Tredu has its own contract formats regarding the student’s own learning goals. At the same time, Hekumu brought up a sub-contract for both parties. We explained the interns’ responsibilities, working hours, work content, rewards, other work terms, and possibly legal issues in the sub-contract. Towards their main working content – sales and customer service, we provided the basic training based on Hekumu’s background information, sales workflow, and the daily report. Sales training is also under scheduling. Apart from that, product descriptions, product samples, working SIM, working email, and communication channels were all prepared. We hope that any problems that arise at work will be communicated and resolved in a timely manner.
Picture 3. Information form for training agreement
Tips to work with interns
As soon as we agreed with the interns about the working hours, days, and duration, we started to face two main issues of how to be able to track their work and how we can motivate them to achieve their own goals and our expectations. We would like to create flexible working conditions for interns which means they can manage their working hours remotely and just need to report to us if they are following the agreed working schedule from the beginning. This decision brings us to several pros and cons. The pros of letting the interns work remotely are to make them feel comfortable and become more proactive in managing their work as own project leaders as well as we do not have to prepare the daily working space for them. The cons are that we make it harder for ourselves to manage to track their work and specially to motivate them timely in their daily sales work or in some specific situations of sales work that require us to give them the motivation right away. Besides, we also must give total trust that we will do what they are supposed to do.
Because we don’t have much experience yet, and we want to get different perspectives about working with interns. We interviewed an entrepreneur who is running an oriental shop and used to own an Asian food restaurant in the Tampere area for many years. She has a foreign background and has received plenty of internship applications every year and lots of experience working with interns. Let’s take a look at her insights.
Questionnaires for the entrepreneur
Why did you need an intern?
My shop size is relatively small. Usually, one person can handle all the workload daily. We wouldn’t need an extra position for cashier or seller. However, the applicants who have a foreign background and are learning Finnish or business take the initiative to come to my store to talk with me, expressing interest in the operation of my store and hope to come here for an internship. I hope to do my best to help them, and fresh faces also can bring vitality to the store.
What did you need to prepare for taking an intern to your company?
Because our work process is simple, we do not need to do training in advance, so we need to discuss the exact working time, fill in the form related to company information, and sign the contract provided by their school before they start their internship at my shop.
How did they like the job?
It depends on their interests and motivations. Although they thought they were interested in reseller business and customer service, their work performance can show if they would be into this business in the future. Some people really found their future direction and enthusiasm at all the tasks. Some people find they don’t like the field and leave before internship periods end.
Were they motivated? How did you motivate them?
As interns have no salary bound, the motivation only comes from their interests and how they want to develop their careers after graduation. Because the students I have interned here are usually non-Finnish, so no matter when they have questions related to studying or living, or be as an entrepreneur, as long as they are interested, I share my knowledge and experience without reservation. As a foreigner living here, I hope they can learn as much as possible from this experience.
How did the intern handle the important tasks?
Trust is the foundation. I will let them do it with confidence. For more complicated tasks such as ordering, to avoid mistakes, I usually do it myself. No credit issues so far.
Did they increase the sales or brand awareness? How did it work?
Since they are usually from different countries, they can give me very precise advice when I choose to sell products from their country or from a region they know well. At the same time, a big part of my customer group is foreigners living in Finland, interns will have the opportunity to communicate in their native language with customers with similar backgrounds. This not only brings word-of-mouth marketing effect but also shows the diversity of our services.
How did you evaluate their performance?
Their school has a set of assessment criteria. And my evaluation standard is usually to see their working hours, whether they achieve 6 hours/day, whether they actively communicate problems encountered at work, and whether they are diligent and punctual.
How was the intern’s work outcome?
It depends. Most of them are good, like the internship experience, and even became an entrepreneur after graduation. I also keep the contacts of several interns in case I have some extra work to do in my business, I would like to hire them. In contrast, there are also those who are not interested in this internship and left halfway.
What are the interns’ learning targets in general? Did they reach their learning target?
For the purpose of learning the Finnish language or to learn the business model and business process. Like the answers to the last question, people who enjoy the work can often learn more. I still have connections with some of them, they are doing well in their business in the service industry, and some have become entrepreneurs.
Have you ever had a special experience with an intern? How were they?
In one case the intern showed up 1-2 days a week for different reasons during the first few weeks of the internship. After that, I contacted her supervisor from her school and informed her that she is probably not suitable to be an intern here at that period. And we both agreed and terminated the contract.
Was there something above or below your expectations? Could you describe what it was?
I think there are two extremes, there are very hardworking and motivated interns, and there are interns who do not plan to work in related industries and have little interest in it. It all depends on the individual. Since there is no salary, both the company and the intern can identify closely whether the intern is suitable for a certain job position in the company in the future. Additionally, it is a good opportunity to build a network by internship.
Besides, we also would like to hear from our interns about their whole experiences and learnings with Hekumu to get some insights for reflecting on our own learnings.
The difference between expectation and reality
Being 1st and 2nd-year students in Tredu, interns have their interests in business activities. However, there is always a gap between ideal and reality. They are new in B2B sales plus a foreign background, cold calling seems very challenging to them in the beginning although the language skills are fulfilled by the requirements. In response to this situation, on the one hand, we appease their emotions, think from their perspective, and appropriately adjust their working content. On the other hand, we provide sales training to improve their work competence. The sales training will mainly focus on sales skills, selection of sales channels, and sales methods. We hope they can find their own advantages and suitable sales methods from multiple perspectives. The peak in sales did not occur, and the motivation of interns to work has declined. Through on-time communication and the guidance of their own mentors, they keep positive and optimistic in the coming four to six weeks of work.
What are the biggest challenges of the Hekumu team working with the interns?
Firstly, we are all learners who are still in the early stage of acquiring more knowledge to develop our fledgling business and who are interns trying to practice and learn more from the practical internship work. What we have is a strong spirit of learning from the actual doings. This is both our strength and weakness which can cause the invisible risk for the business practice and in the case, we cannot find the answers or solutions for some tricky matters because of our missing knowledge, it is possibly leading us to no way out, or reduce our performance and productivity.
Secondly, the interns need continuous and timely motivation. One matter that happened right away after 2 weeks of the internship period is that the intern reported feeling frustrated when trying to reach out to sell to the target buyers by cold calls. She does not know how to attract the interest of the potential for our products and how to control negative feelings as well as refresh herself after those cold calls. If she was an experienced saleswoman, the matter may be so different. In Hekumu’s internship work, she also trains herself to have this ‘steel spirit’. We do not know yet what to do next if, after a lot of effort in training her sales skill and making a lot of motivation to support her, she still can’t control the negative feelings from cold calls. However, obviously, we are dealing with uncertain situations requiring continuous learning from this internship period.
Thirdly, hard-working does not mean being able to create good outcomes in sales. Not having a lot of experience in sales or cold calling can make the cold calling experiences with the target buyers more horrifying, and newbies like the interns can find it even more difficult to turn these potentials from just being interested in the products into the decision to close the deal with her. As the supervisor position, the Hekumu team totally understands these difficulties, but using the positive comforting, and encouraging words to the interns seems to be not enough than offering her the good training from an experienced salesperson of Hekumu, besides creating the sharing environment for continuous improvement for the whole team. When contacting the potential, gaining trust by voice through the phone is even harder than through face-to-face meetings because the listeners can only be impressed by the tone of voice and the messages of the salesperson. If the salesperson can succeed in gaining interest for a longer conversation or for the introduced products, the next effort is even harder to convince the potential to close the sales deal. The salesperson needs to watch out for the right time to call for the action of closing the deal or giving the chance for a face-to-face meeting. Agility, professionalism, and skills to attract others by the tone of voice are skills that the interns may need to practice more.
There are still many things for Hekumu team to improve. Learning from the experienced entrepreneurs were the good idea because with their advice, we could come to many good insights to work with our interns. Even though just after 2 weeks working with the interns, we could achieve many improvements related to communication, feedback, sales, customer services, etc. So far, Hekumu team has been feeling so much excited to find the solutions for uncertain hard issues and learn a lot from it. We would suggest to other entrepreneur teams in Proakatemia to find a chance to work with the interns because it has much more advantages for them as the young entrepreneur in term of learning, especially in improving the leadership skill. To be continued…
Leslie Bloom. Updated July 01, 2018. ‘What Is the Purpose of an Internship?’. Read 1 May 2022.