The Intern-view: Top 10 insights from an intern

Sarah Gebretsadik is one of eight summer interns hired by CFIB in 2015 as part of the fifth annual CFIB/Scotiabank Internship in Public Policy and Entrepreneurship. Her role will involve research and writing a report on workers compensation systems in Canada.

Sarah is currently completing her MA in Public Policy and Economic Development at York University. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto, specializing in International Development with a Minor in Economics. She spoke to MSU about the ins and outs of her internship.

What type of organizational attributes were you looking for when you sought an internship?

I was looking for an organization that would have meaningful work for me to do; not just mundane tasks or tedious tasks, but actually something that makes a difference and contributes in some way to the organization. Another attribute would be an organization that acknowledges that I’m there to learn and grow, so a place that would foster that and give me different challenging activities to do, that would push me, help me to not just stay in one particular area of the organization, but would help me learn different organizational aspects of the organization, as well. I’m here just as much to contribute what I have as I am to learn from the organization.

What appealed to you specifically about the CFIB/Scotiabank internship?

I appreciated that they seemed to take the internship role seriously. There was meaningful work to be done in that there was a report to write. Also, the credentials or the requirements they were asking for were a little bit higher, so I appreciated that, because if they are expecting higher credentials, it means better work that they were probably expecting us to do. I saw that the internship really related to the field that I was studying; there was a strong relationship between what I study and what I’m looking to do in the future, and specifically, what the CFIB internship had to offer. There was an alignment there.

What was the most challenging part of the process?

The technical aspect of the video component of the interview process was probably the most difficult part. It was difficult to get used to because it was a bit impersonal and you can’t really feed off of people’s conversations, or you aren’t sure if you’re going in the right direction with responses. It’s time limited, so there were a lot of constraints when it came to that, yet I understand why they had to use that tool, since there were a lot of people that applied.

What are you hoping to accomplish with this internship?

I’m hoping to gain a lot of practical job experience. The work that I’m doing here is really similar to what I’ve studied, but this is a place that I can actually apply the things I’ve studied to a work environment and actually see them in what I’m writing; the changes (outlined) in the report I can bring to the industry, or to small and medium-sized businesses.

I also want to learn professional development skills and presentation skills. It’s nice because as an intern, perhaps expectations aren’t as high as if I was hired as a (permanent) employee, so there’s a gap there provided for learning. I want to really use that space that’s provided. Also, I hope to learn from different people in the office.

Can you think of any questions asked of you during your interviews that really stood out?

Two questions stood out to me:

1) In your life, what would you see as your two greatest accomplishments? This provides an opportunity to get to know me as an individual and see what it is that I value; what it is that I think is an accomplishment. It gives you an opportunity to learn more about the individual that you’re about to hire, which I think is pretty interesting and a little bit above and beyond the normal type of questions that you always get asked in interviews, where people come already prepared with a response.

2) In what type of environment do you work best? As an independent worker? In a team environment? I think through this question you can see if a person is best suited for the job environment that you have. For example, some research-based positions are much more independent. If a person wants to be around people more (and) wants to be interactive, it might be a pretty depressing job to have to sit down by yourself. Or if you’re somebody who likes to work alone but the job requires you to interact with people, such as a sales and marketing position, it probably wouldn’t be fitting.

Imagine you’re a business owner: your business is growing and you’re going to test the waters by establishing your very first intern program. What type of qualities will you be looking for in an intern?

I would look for the intern to be somebody who is hard working, who would not see the internship as something inferior, or something less than employment, so that they would think ‘I don’t really need to work that hard.’ I would look for somebody that is actually hard working and who came to the job to give it all that they had, to do their best at this position. I’d also look for somebody who is willing to learn: willing to be molded and mentored, not somebody who comes in saying ‘Oh, I have this educational background and I know everything.’ Somebody who is flexible, willing to adapt and grow, and who doesn’t just want to stay in the position. These things all tie into confidence: an intern who believes in the work that they have to offer and who believes in the skills they have to offer doesn’t shy away from really delivering.

What is important for a business to know as they go about seeking to hire an intern?

You would need to know if an intern actually fits the need that you have: is it really an intern that you need? Internships are usually short-term and are usually for growth, learning, development, so is that the need of your organization? If so, then maybe you can go a little bit more specific and ask, ‘Am I looking for an intern that has a certain specific set of skills, or is it enough that an intern has just a university or certain type of background, and we can just work with that?’ It really depends on what an organization’s need is and understanding (a) do you need an intern and (b) what type of intern do you need? Does this intern need to have, for example, a certain amount of education or a certain type of work experience? These are all things that you can consider, and also, you could ask, ‘Do we have room to take on this intern later on? Are we looking for somebody we could have for a few months to see if this person is fitting for the organization? Do we want to take this person on?’

What does a business or organization need to do to create the right conditions for a successful internship?

Having some type of a structure is good; not just throwing the intern into the organization and saying ‘OK, just figure it out.’ Maybe have some training in the beginning, have some type of meetings with the interns, some type of information sessions, with the understanding that the intern may not have had this type of work experience before. Allowing for that learning curve in the beginning is really important, as well. And then placing the intern in the environment for training and development, providing mentorship to the intern, providing feedback throughout the internship process, having continuous, periodic meetings — it’s not just about the (functional) tasks for the intern, it’s also about the intern’s development. It’s not just about an employee getting work done, but also actually investing in the intern.

What does a successful internship look like, when all is said and done?

I would hope that I would have gained new skills, whether they are specific to that job, or also transferable skills. Sometimes there are internship positions where you could continue in that organization, and other times that’s not possible, so an internship would be great if I walked out not only with the skills specific to that job, but also with skills that I could take on to other jobs, as well. For example, presentation skills, being able to work in an office space, knowing how to deliver based on what my manager is looking for, being able to meet expectations, being able to communicate with (colleagues) in authority…all of these are important. Also, for me to be able to look back and say ‘I had different challenging experiences that came my way during my internship and I was able to overcome them and grow from them.’ I am also working on a report that will be published, and not only the report, but there’s a newsletter component and different communication aspects that go along with the report. It’s a very large, holistic project (data collection, analysis, report-writing, a media release).

Given that you were one of eight out of about 1,300 applicants who made the final cut, what do you think made you such a compelling candidate?

I think my educational background aligns with the work CFIB is doing. I’m doing research on public policy for small and medium-sized businesses, which is very much aligned with what CFIB does. I also have international work and educational experience, which I think is a little different than what others have to offer. I’ve worked abroad for about a year and I’ve worked with SMEs in different capacities internationally, so perhaps that was something different that I was able to bring that stood out from other candidates. I was also very clear that I was looking forward to being challenged and growing.

Thank you, Sarah, for offering such valuable insight. This will be a great learning tool for small business owners who are navigating the internship planning and hiring process.

Start small, dream big: connect your startup to more customers this summer

Summertime is here again and ‘tis the season to Shop Small Biz!

Are you looking to get some social media-driven customer love for your small business?

Or perhaps you are seeking an opportunity to list your business on a free directory exclusively dedicated to Canadian small businesses?

Guess what? We’ve got you covered on both counts.

shop small biz contest CanadaFirst, the contest: get your customers to spread the good word about why your small business is their favourite by asking them to enter the #SmallBizLove contest, sponsored by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and Interac.

It’s really simple and fun: your customer shares the love for your small business on Twitter or Instagram, using the hashtag #SmallBizLove.  Customers can also use a downloadable poster available from and snap a pic of it posted it in your establishment using the same hashtag.  The winning customers gets a $500 shopping spree to spend at your business, and the businesses with the most submissions gets recognition by CFIB, including the possibility of a national campaign to mark Small Business Saturday in October 2015.

And the directory? is where all the cool small businesses go! Launched in 2013, it’s a handy, searchable listing of small businesses across every walk of life, from auto mechanics to beauty salons to dentists. You can also find small businesses in your neighbourhood that offer discounts. It’s definitely worth having your business listed here and it’s 100% free. CFIB members, including My StartUp Canada members get the added benefit of a free premium listing.

The contest and the directory are but two items on a long list of positive things that CFIB does for Canada’s small business community. Consider joining CFIB today.

If you’ve been in business for less than two years, you can join My StartUp for a six-month FREE introductory membership.

Hiring your first intern: what Canadian business owners need to know

Congratulations, your business is growing! Of course, almost every growing business goes through an awkward phase – when you obviously need more help and resources, but the money is not yet rolling in to the point you can hire senior level staff. If you’re in this stage and the word intern has floated through your brain a few times, you are not alone.

But where do you start? How do you hire an intern? Can anyone hire and intern? Do I have to pay a salary? If so, how much? What duties can they take over? This blog post will cover those questions and more, so do read on!

Start Ups Hiring InternsHow do I hire an intern?

Before you place an ad on Craigslist or Workopolis, it’s worth exploring whether or not your business qualifies for funding an internship.

Some funding options to consider:

Advanced Manufacturing Fund: $200 million in federal funding to support the manufacturing sector in Southern Ontario, including a non-repayable grant for non-profits providing internships.

Connect Canada Internship: A total of $10,000 to support the hiring of a research intern to conduct an R & D project

Skills Link Program: Provides funding for employers/organizations to help youth overcome barriers to employment

Apprenticeship Job Creation Tax Credit: A non-refundable tax credit worth 10% of eligible salaries and wages paid to eligible apprentices.

Canada Summer Jobs: Up to 100% funding of minimum wage for eligible non-profit organizations.

Yves Landry Foundation: Up to $50,000 of funding to support training or up-skilling of workers.

Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) TalentEdge Programs: Industry-Academic partnership provides 50-50 funding for both academic and industry internships.

Do I have to pay them?

The short answer is straightforward: unless your intern is receiving school credit or the internship is part of a recognized educational program, you may be violating the law if you do not pay your interns (see To pay or not to pay: laws surrounding internships in Canada”).

 If I don’t have to, should I pay an intern?

While every business is different, there is compelling evidence showing the value of paid internships, for both the employer and employee. It really boils down to cultivating the workforce of tomorrow in a labour market that will be short of qualified workers in the coming years. Your business will be well-placed to succeed with a loyal, engaged and committed workforce, and paid internships go a long way towards achieving this outcome.

How can I best use an intern?

A good rule is to ensure the internship provides ample opportunity for the young worker to develop skills in their chosen field of study or practice. It is inappropriate to have interns do menial work, such as fetching coffee or spending all day at the photocopier. Besides, you probably won’t be doing your business any favours by exploiting young workers, and the intern will share his or her experiences with others, which can put your company’s name in a poor light.

To pay or not to pay: laws surrounding internships in Canada

Given the amount of media attention dedicated to paid vs. unpaid internships, it’s worth breaking down the current lay of the land on this subject.

According to the Canadian Intern Association, a not-for-profit organization that advocates for better conditions for interns, an unpaid internship outside of a proper educational context is generally considered illegal in Canada, although there is some uncertainty about how this works in practice.

There have been high-profile examples of exploitation of unpaid interns, or companies using intern programs to get around labour laws related to paying employees a wage. There have also been cases of unpaid internships that are formally part of an educational program, but do not adhere to the criteria for an educational internship.

The responsibility for regulating internships falls to each province’s labour ministry. There is a lot of variability between provinces in terms of what is considered an acceptable educational internship, and whether an intern must be paid.

Further muddying the waters is the fact that some internships fall under federal jurisdiction and operate under separate legislation from the provinces (and the relevant legislation, the Canada Labour Code, makes no mention of the word “intern”).

Ontario has published a guidance statement on unpaid internships that offers some clarity, while at the federal level, there is a private member’s bill that would amend the Canada Labour Code and offer various protections for unpaid interns.

In the end, consider what your parents taught you about the value of work: hard work may very well be its own reward, yet it’s just as important to remember that a job well done deserves a reward.

Stay tuned for more internship tips and information on the My StartUp blog.

Paying Employees for Canada Long Weekends: The stats on stat holidays

Is there anything more Canadian than a long weekend? Well, maybe back bacon and maple syrup. Either way, the long weekend is pretty high up on the list. And no Canadian long weekend is complete without a conversation about inconsistency across the country when it comes to statutory holidays.

Here is a breakdown of various holidays across the country. Note that not all public holidays are paid, so be sure to check with your province’s labour ministry to confirm.

2015 holidays by province

Long Weekend Employee Pay in Canadian Provinces

How to pay statutory holidays

For each paid statutory holiday, employers must pay all of their salaried employees an amount equal to 1/20 of the employee’s gross wages, not including overtime, earned over the full four-week pay period leading up to the week in which the paid statutory holiday occurs.

Every employee is entitled to receive Public Holiday Pay: the amount based on the prior 4 weeks regular earnings divided by 20 then multiplied by 4%, and remember to include salaried employees

Most provinces pay an employee time and a half plus regular wages for working on a stat holiday.

My StartUp/CFIB partner Payworks has nicely summarized current holiday pay rates and annual vacation entitlements by province.

What if my employee has booked vacation and it falls on a stat holiday?

When a stat holiday occurs while an employee is taking regular vacation, your employee may be entitled to a substitute day off with holiday pay, unless they agree otherwise.

CFIB has a wealth of information on stat holidays, vacation, and how these apply to different provinces:

BC: Alberta: Saskatchewan:

Manitoba: Ontario: Quebec: New Brunswick: Nova Scotia: Prince Edward Island: Newfoundland: Northwest Territories: Yukon: