Working with an intern is both a privilege and a responsibility for an employer. Interns can be a boon to your business and give you the extra pair of hands, current educational thinking, and enthusiasm and support your business needs.
An employer can gain assistance and support at a time when your company is growing, but not yet ready to add full or part time regular staff. You can supplement full time staff and accomplish projects and assignments that you might not otherwise have had the resources to pursue. You can use an intern’s fresh knowledge of your field to look at possibilities for expanding and improving your offerings for customers.
An intern brings a fresh perspective, the vibrancy of a young person, or even an older person, who is learning about or starting out in their field of dreams. An intern can bring needed diversity to an employer. Interns are accustomed to learning, writing, researching, and producing work on a schedule. An employer, and your employees, can gain a lot from the contributions of an intern – if you manage the internship effectively.
How Employers Can Magnify the Intern Experience
In turn, an employer owes interns certain monetary and experiential factors.
- Interns should receive payment for services: The most frequent disagreement around utilizing interns revolves around whether an employer needs to pay interns. In my part of the country, interns make $10-12 an hour; the best paid interns make around $20. I believe, and yes, this is a strong bias, that employers should pay interns. Regardless of the experience an employer is providing for an intern, the intern deserves payment for services rendered.
(I will consider an exception if the intern receives credit and the internship is required for the specific degree or graduation. This enables employers who might not have been able to participate in an internship or afford an intern, provide another opportunity needed by interns.)
This is a small price to pay to attract the best and brightest students as interns, or the young people who may not have deep pockets supporting them in college. Paying interns gives you the opportunity to attract young people whom you may eventually hire, regardless of their financial situation.
Paying interns ensures diversity as any student can apply for the paid internship. Additionally, paying interns allows the interns to work more hours in your business, rather than holding down a part-time job or two. Why not enable the interns to spend their time learning and contributing in your business?
- Employers should select interns as you would an employee. Use a systematic hiring process to hire your interns. The interns will appreciate the experience you provide when they hit the real world job market. Your employees will select the intern from a variety of candidates and experience more ownership and commitment to the interns' experience, as a result. Employers with a tried and true hiring process will attract and hire their best candidate interns.
- Interns deserve a well-rounded intern experience: No, interns are not working in your business to make copies, file paperwork, and sit at your reception desk greeting visitors and answering phones. Can this type of task be part of an internship? Absolutely. In a business, employees help out with whatever the business needs. But, you are short-changing the interns – and your business - if this encompasses the experience you provide for or the services you utilize from your interns.
- Interns need a developmental plan. Interns deserve a true introduction to your business that gives them experience in a number of areas related to their interests and potential degree. Employers should require departments to produce a written developmental plan for the intern's experience before a department is allowed to hire an intern. Similar to a job description, the plan lays out a developmental path with specific outcomes. The best internship plans also provide an onboarding component so that interns quickly assimilate within your company.
This gives the interns you really want, and may potentially hire, a good picture of what their experience will encompass in your organization. This is a competitive advantage if you are in a market in which employers compete for the most desirable interns. The written plan also provides a guide path for how your department will utilize the intern. The written plan lays out the responsibilities of the employer to provide developmental opportunities for the interns including meetings to attend, projects to work on, time spent with various staff members, and job tasks to learn.
- A specific boss or mentor who is committed to the intern's learning is essential. An internship is an opportunity to develop that first, and possibly career-long relationship, with an individual, or mentor, who cares about and is committed to an intern’s success. Regular meetings, goals, and guidance are critical in this relationship. Monitoring progress, encouraging the intern’s growth, and ensuring that the employer is benefitting from the intern’s time and contribution are components of the mentor’s job. Assisting the intern to follow the developmental plan is a critical component, too.
- Include the intern in regular organization events. You want your interns to experience the totality of working for your organization. Holiday parties, community and professional meetings, TGIF meet-ups at your local tavern, and departmental lunches make the internship experience real. Plus, they add to your potential to attract the best interns to your company after graduation. The interns have had the opportunity to experience your company’s extended culture and events for employees. This helps both the intern and the employer assess cultural fit and the potential success of the intern as an employee.
- Hire the desirable interns for serial internships. If an intern has worked out well in your company, fits your culture, works well with your employees, and offers skills and experience you need, why not offer a return engagement? I have known interns who worked for the same company from high school through college graduation and then, accepted a job offer.
Yes, it’s fine if the intern wants to experience different internships in different company settings. Encourage your interns to explore other possibilities. But, it is not your responsibility, as the employer, to decree that the interns must work elsewhere for experience. The decision to work at multiple internships is up to the intern and his or her program counselors – not the employer. Make your offer; the intern will decide.
- Hire your best interns. Nothing is more important to an intern who has come to love and value your company and who is valued and appreciated by you, than to join your company, as a regular employee, upon graduation. Better to hire the person that you really know than a stranger whose trial period is on your dime in your job. Note that, in particularly sought after majors and skill sets, interns are accepting job offers as early as fall for a job that starts after their spring graduation. Be prepared to act before you lose your best prospects.
With thought, planning, and a systematic process, both employers and interns can benefit from internships.