How to recruit rock star unpaid interns, with Stephen Woessner.

Episode 137

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Stephen is the CEO of Predictive ROI and host of the Onward Nation podcast. He is the author of two bestselling books, speaker, trainer, and his digital marketing insights have been featured in SUCCESS, Entrepreneur, The Washington Post, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, and other media.

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Good Morning Onward Nation…I’m Stephen Woessner.

Before we jump into the topic of today’s solocast — I wanted to take a moment to wish you, your family, and your friends a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

My hope for you is that you will be able to take some time away from your business to celebrate all of the wonderful blessings in your life — and to take this opportunity to plan for 2016 and to gain even more clarity on your most vital priorities for the coming year.

How will you make 2016 your best year ever?

I can tell you for certain — that becoming your best and achieving more — will not be the result of you working harder — or even as a result of you working smarter as we often hear.


You need to add more scale and leverage into your business — to make your business more systematic, more predictable, repeatable, and measurable.

All of which are key ingredients we talk about with today’s top business owners here at Onward Nation.

With that — again — I wish you, and all those in your life, a very Merry Christmas and Happy 2016.

Our Onward Nation and Predictive ROI families are taking a break as well. We will not be airing new episodes tomorrow or Friday so our team can spend time away from the business on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

We will follow the same schedule next week by not airing new episodes on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.

Have a wonderful holiday week — and take some time to practice Habit #7 — or “Sharpen the Saw” from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Everything you need to make 2016 your best yet — the year of your dreams — is already in your midst.

So let’s keep this momentum of 2016 going by focusing on a key ingredient that can propel your business onward to that next level.

Hiring “A Players” — but — I don’t mean adding several high salaried or highly commissioned positions to your team. Instead, I am referring to the opportunity of hiring “A Players” who also happen to be unpaid interns.

Yes, I did say unpaid interns.

On the Predictive ROI side of our business, we have built an outstanding internship program and have provided over 20 unpaid internships over the last several years to students in their senior year of study at Purdue, Duke, Ohio State, University of South Florida, University of Northern Iowa, and several other universities throughout the country.
I decided to focus today’s solocast on how to recruit rock star interns because last week, I was on-site with a client leading a 2-day intensive on SMART Search Engine Optimization and Lead Gen.

And like in many companies, the marketing manager was responsible for everything — new content development, generating qualified leads, optimizing content, email campaigns, print collaterals materials, trade show analysis, trade show displays, PPC campaigns, coordinating all of the in-house experts for any technical writing, the blog, video production, and the dizzying list goes on and on. My word.

Toward the end of our first day — I asked him if he had access to any interns who could provide some additional production capacity and support so he could focus more of his time toward his most vital priorities.

He quickly said no — but then went on to share some insights about their corporate culture, its view of interns, and actually needing permission to hire a full-time employee even if he only wanted to hire an intern — because they wouldn’t hire an intern unless there was a pathway to employment.

And since budget was tight — no funds were available for recruiting and then paying interns.

So I asked… “What about unpaid interns?”

And I received the reaction that I am very used to seeing or hearing when I mention unpaid internships.

The typical objections are that you will only be able to recruit the unmotivated…the people who are just looking to check the box off the list…they are there to do the bare minimum…and nothing more.

And I suspect that has been the experience for most companies.

But not at Predictive ROI…our sister company to Onward Nation.

In fact…our recipe for recruiting rock star interns is so good…I am going to share all of the ingredients during this episode. I am going to give you the exact recipe so you can take it and apply it into your business right away.

But before I do…I want to take this opportunity to pull back the green curtain and take you behind the scenes at Onward Nation for a minute so you can meet some of the rock star members of our Predictive ROI team who pull all the levers regarding the day-to-day production behind Onward Nation as well as the other podcasts we produce for clients.

I should also point out that not everyone on our Predictive ROI team is part of the Onward Nation team. For example, Alex Krupski, Whitney Puent, and Hagan Whiteleather are interns and assigned to other teams. I will be sure to introduce you to them during a future solocast where we focus on search engine optimization and content development. Because all three of them are absolutely rock stars — and their expertise is deep!

So for Onward Nation…let me introduce you first to Katherine Bartlett — yay, Katherine! Katherine is our full-time multi-media producer and the wizard behind all of our episodes — how they sound — and how they look out on social media. Anything audio and visual related is all orchestrated by Katherine.

Katherine began her career at Predictive ROI as an unpaid intern. She was one of those people who raised her hand and said — “Um, I know that I am only required to do 10 hours per week for this internship. But, could I do more?” And our response was…oh my…yes, please.

When her internship was complete…we transitioned Katherine to what we call “Super Intern” during her final semester at the University of Northern Iowa. She received a very small stipend of compensation while she focused on her remaining education. And when she graduated, she became a full time salaried employee. Katherine is a rock star.

And then there is Louie Schuth…who is in-charge of all our show notes, email campaigns, blog posts, our Twitter strategy, and LNKD articles.

Louie is an amazing writer and a graduate of University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Louie finished his unpaid internship today and will begin his super internship on Monday, January 4th.

We are thrilled to have Louie as a member of our team…because he and Katherine are cut from the exact same cloth of — “Yes, please — I can do more.”

We started Louie off with a variety of writing projects and he quickly excelled. And then he asked if he could allocate a portion of his time to WordPress and managing some of our websites.

Uh, yes please!

And he excelled there, too.

And Louie is the one who stays up late with me Tuesday nights before my solocasts air to make sure the show notes and audio file are set correctly.

We are excited for Louie to complete his super internship and then become a full time member of our Onward Nation and Predictive ROI teams.

Then there is the trailblazer…Christian McCauley. Christian was a critical part in the launch of Onward Nation. It was Christian who created the framework of our Show Notes — and our daily ONE email system was his invention.

Christian also took over the editing of our daily episodes from me so I could focus on other vital priorities.

He built a system — a process — a recipe — that later, Louie picked up and ran with.

Christian provided scale to Onward Nation and we provided him with an opportunity to sharpen and refine his marketing education that he received from Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio.

Following his internship with us, Christian went on to work full-time at Waggoner’s Chocolates and is building a career in the confection industry and using what he learned at Predictive ROI every day.

We are thrilled to watch his success. You’re a rock star, Christian — thank you!

And last but not least…I’d like to introduce you to Erik Jensen, our vice president of client services for Predictive ROI and he also oversees our entire production team for Predictive and Onward Nation.

I first met Erik while I was a part of the academic staff at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. I served at the Small Business Development Center on campus. One day, the chair of our marketing department suggested to Erik that he come see me regarding a business plan that Erik and his business partner were developing for a competition at Duke University. We met and I was blown away by his professionalism and grasp of so much detail. Later that night — I said to my wife, wow…this guy is amazing — I hope some day there is an opportunity to work together on something.

Years later…Erik became our first intern at Predictive ROI…he then became full time employee #3 as an associate…we then promoted him to engagement manager…then the leadership team…then vice president of client services…and within the next several months…Erik will become an equity partner in Predictive ROI. Erik is a rock star in the truest sense of the word.

Erik helped set the standard by which we evaluate and measure all interns.

He invested a full-time schedule toward his internship even though it wasn’t required. And that is the type of heart you are looking for, Onward Nation, in your interns.

You need to treat your unpaid interns exactly as full-time members of your team and you will get a higher level of production and proactivity.

So with that…I am going to share the complete recipe for how we recruit rock star candidates to our unpaid internship program.

Please note:

We only take students in their senior year of school. We have had positive experiences with juniors (but that is often not the case) and we have had positive experiences with interns post graduation (but that is often not the case as well).

So we decided to focus on seniors and have found them to be the most motivated, eager to learn, and hungry to gain experience because graduation is looming and so is their job search.

Ingredient #1: Define your culture with your leadership team, employees, and post a page on your website for candidates to study.

On our culture page for Predictive ROI, we define with the following phrases (and more):

“We promise to provide our clients with the very best, most outstanding consulting and training services available.

“We are so committed to being outstanding that we deliver a minimum of 200 percent financial return on investment to clients. We take it further by guaranteeing each client’s ROI.

“And refund our fee if we do not deliver what we promise.

“We demand a standard of excellence of ourselves and are committed to delivering that standard to clients 100 percent of the time. No excuses or exceptions.

“We are a team. We work hard. We rise together – because as our clients succeed – we succeed.”

You can find our full culture description here:

Ingredient #2: write a position description that is in-line with your culture and post on your website.

We clearly define who and what we’re looking for in our position descriptions. Here’s how we begin our description of what we do — and — who exactly we are looking for:

“Predictive ROI is a growing digital marketing consulting agency that works with an array of visionary businesses in many industries. We work with our clients to help them achieve explosive growth by reaching their digital goals. This includes increasing their ROI and enhancing their brand across many platforms/mediums. We are looking for candidates who embody our standard of excellence, our culture of teamwork, and who are enthusiastic about learning while delivering their best work. We offer the flexibility of working remotely, a robust on-boarding program, training through our Predictive ROI Institute, a team of like-minded high achievers and opportunities for advancement.

“If you are a member of the Predictive team, or a client, you are family. We work together to achieve our goals, we care and we go all in to get it done.”

You can find full position descriptions here:

Ingredient #3: post testimonials / social proof on your website because “A Players” want to work with other “A Players” — or — where other “A Players” have worked.

“The team at Predictive ROI is incredible. They are so talented and passionate about this industry, and that really makes such a difference. I feel like I have learned much more through this internship than I ever expected. With every step of the way, I felt involved in the process and that my thoughts and ideas mattered. Through the help of some pretty great mentors, I was able to not only learn more about this industry, but was able to apply what I was learning first-hand.” — Whitney Puent

“There’s one word that comes to mind when looking to describe the Predictive ROI internship: special. Predictive ROI gives you the opportunity to do great work that has an impact. But, more importantly, at Predictive ROI you work with the greatest team you could ever ask for, a team that will have your back and guide you so that you’re better prepared for the working world, and better prepared for life. If you’re willing to put in the hard work, don’t think twice about applying for an internship with Predictive ROI. You won’t regret it.” — Louie Schuth

“Applying for an internship with Predictive ROI was the best decision I’ve made in a long time. Going into my final semester of college, I knew I wanted an internship that would allow me to hone and develop my professional skills by making impactful contributions within an organization. An internship with Predictive ROI gives you exactly that. At Predictive ROI, you are given the opportunity to work with an unbelievable team that will teach you the the tools and skills needed to be successful in your career.” — Alex Krupski

Ingredient #4: weed out B and C players by sending a pre-qualifying email with challenging thought provoking questions to each candidate.

We send the following email immediately after receiving someone’s application / resume:

[Candidate’s First Name]…thank you for your interest in our internship!

As the first step in our process…please review the following questions and email us back your thoughts for each.

Your answers to each question will give our team an opportunity to: 1) understand how we can create the right internship experience for you and ensure you learn everything you want to learn, 2) evaluate your written communication skills, and 3) assess your depth of interest in joining our team.

  1. Please introduce yourself (beyond what we can learn by reading your resume) and why our internship is of interest to you.
  2. Please describe the top three things you would like to learn during this internship. And we encourage you to be as specific as possible.
  3. Tell us about your digital marketing experience up to this point (and if it is zero…that is okay).
  4. Things we cannot teach are work ethic, commitment to teammates, integrity, and excellence. Please share an example of when you consistently demonstrated excellence in your work.
  5. Please share an example of when you demonstrated integrity.
  6. What are the attributes or qualities you look for in teammates?
  7. How can we help support your growth and development during this internship?

This is my direct email address — please feel free to reply here.

We look forward to talking with you.

Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

Sincerely Yours,

Stephen Woessner
Host of The Onward Nation Podcast
CEO of Predictive ROI

Ingredient #5: conduct initial call to assess cultural fit and subject matter expertise deep dive

If the answers provided back are at our standard of excellence — I will schedule a subject matter expertise-focused phone call in order to assess:

  1. cultural fit
  2. depth of current knowledge.

Their current knowledge is not a deal breaker because we train and teach all we do — but it is good to have a baseline. I also make a decision — along with the candidate — on whether or not there is a good enough of a fit to move on to Step 3.

Ingredient #6: conduct team interview with the candidate.

Team interview with the candidate, Katherine (former intern, now our multi-media producer), Erik (former intern, now our vp of client services and co-owner), and me. Our focus during this interview is to answer any questions from the candidate about Predictive, the internship, and where the company is headed. And we ask a lot of questions about teamwork, proactivity, independent working / thinking, etc.

Ingredient #7: make a go or no go decision — then send “Congratulations” email

Good Morning [Candidate’s First Name]…thank you again for your time yesterday afternoon!

I am excited to give you a very warm welcome to the Predictive ROI team.

Katherine, Erik, and I thoroughly enjoyed our time with you yesterday and look forward to having your contribution to the work we are all doing.

I am preparing a formal acceptance letter that will detail initial responsibilities, internship duration, etc. I will email it to you on Friday for your review and approval.

But at this point…would Monday be a good start date for you?

And would you be able to attend our 8:45 am kick-start meeting via Zoom?

Onward with gusto!

Ingredient #8: kick-off the semester long internship.

After they’ve accepted the internship, we bring them into our daily kickstart meetings at 8:45 am where we all answer four questions:

  1. My three most vital priorities for the day are…
  2. What I didn’t get done yesterday but should have (not a judgement question — but an ask for teamwork)
  3. This is where I need some help…
  4. I do / don’t have available time today

Take vital projects off your plate and give them to your interns — not filing projects — put them on the front lines with meaningful work. They will love you for it if you do.

You will recruit “A Players” — rock star unpaid interns — just like Predictive ROI and Onward Nation has if you apply these 8 ingredients.

So with that said…

I want to say again, thank you for taking the time to be here with me today. It is an honor to have you here — thank you for tuning in — your time is sacred and I am delighted you chose this episode to be what you listen to, study, and take with you on your morning run, or maybe Onward Nation has become part of your daily commute, or in some other way has become part of your morning routine.

However our daily podcast fits into your daily routine — I want you to know how much I appreciate you sharing some of your invaluable 86,400 seconds you have in your day with me and the strategies we learn and share each day from today’s top business owners.

And please continue to let me know what you think of Onward Nation…good or bad…I always want your feedback. My direct email address is [email protected] — and yes — that is my actual Inbox. No fancy filters or filing system and I read and reply to every single email.

So please let me know how you think we are doing. I look forward to hearing from you.

Merry Christmas and we will be back on Monday with an incredible interview with Becky McKinnell — she is off the charts amazing. Don’t miss it.

Until then, onward with gusto!

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