I take a strong personal interest in the role of interns. That’s because my first job in business was a paid internship at a John Hancock Financial Network career agency. I’ve been a huge advocate ever since. That’s why it frustrates me when firms don’t always know how to use interns properly.

Here’s a sadly predictable story.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Imagine your firm runs a lot of events, and you really need an extra pair of hands. You decide to hire a bright, enthusiastic young intern who’s bursting with ideas for growing your firm. Then you sit her down in her cubicle and set her to work booking meeting venues, tracking RSVPs, and ordering cheese trays. Maybe your ops person needs some clerical help today. Why not? Everybody has to start somewhere. Soon, her ideas stop flowing, her smile fades, and suddenly, she’s gone. Cue the regrets.

What happened? It’s simple. You hired a person studying SEO, SEM, social media, and email marketing, and told her to start calling restaurants. Or filing documents, or pitching in with client service. There was a complete mismatch between her expectations and yours. And it’s all because you made one big hiring mistake: forgetting to follow your own excellent advice.

Are you sure what you’re looking for?
What do you always say to a client before developing a financial plan or investment program? You say: Tell me your goals. You don’t put together a portfolio, and then ask what the money is intended for. The same is true of an internship. First, define your objectives. Do you really need an administrative support person? Then hire one. Are you in growth mode, and are you looking to ramp up your social media activity or email marketing? Then hire a marketing intern. That’s exactly what they have been studying, and their knowledge can be a real asset to you.

Write a better ending.
Once you’ve hired interns, don’t waste them on paperwork. They’ll quit. Let them flex their muscles. Give them the freedom to implement some of their ideas layered on top of your baseline marketing programs. Let them try to sell you a bigger strategy. You won’t take them up on every suggestion, but you do need to show you’re interested. At the same time, indoctrinate these young minds into your firm culture. Get them excited about the potential for growth, and show what their career path might look like. This is how you build a lasting relationship—one that doesn’t carry all the baggage that comes with a lateral hire.

If you’re a growth-minded advisor, two of your biggest problems are most likely finding talent and marketing more effectively. A marketing intern can help you solve both challenges at once—as long as you clearly define your goals before you hire one. It would be a big mistake not to.