Often times when you hear the word intern, it's usually followed by or near "free labor" or "assistant". However, hiring an intern isn’t just finding some random person and having them fetch coffee or do paperwork for the office! Too often an internship that could have been beneficial to both the employer and intern ends in a lack of satisfaction for both parties. An Internship is a two-way street. While the intern is working for you, you are expected to mentor and help them to grow as well! Sometimes you also have graduated professionals looking to transition into new careers or industries. People take internships hoping to gain experience, pad their resume and maybe even get hired on into the company.
So, to hire interns? or not to hire interns? That is the question we'll be exploring.
Benefits of interns
Keep in mind that although they may be temporary, there is an innate cost to your company involved as well. To be more efficient with your process and offset costs, you should try to incorporate internships into your recruitment process. There are some great benefits to bringing on interns as new employees. Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com says
I am a business owner who has previously hired employees that began their careers as interns at our company. We always found the experience to be a positive one. I think it's important to hire interns because, even if they hired just for a semester, they are able to bring a fresh perspective into the workplace. This is beneficial not just the departments, but for the company as a whole.
Depending on how your succession planning is set up, these interns can potentially be trained to fill entry-level roles in your company and actually save you money on recruiting, hiring, and onboarding costs! It's an easy transition into your company for those who have already spent time in your company.
Instead of sifting through hundreds of applicants for the perfect match, you’ll have someone properly trained and familiar with the culture at the end of the internship ready to be hired full-time to your company. This is a great example of performance-based hiring in action!
Things to consider when looking for in an intern
There are actually many different reasons why people take internships and different types of internships that you can set up. What kind of qualifications are you looking for? Is it going to be an in-office internship or a remote internship? What kind of tasks will the interns be doing? Deciding these factors will help you narrow down the candidates you are looking for and clarify the qualities needed to succeed in the internship.
Jimmy McMillan, the owner of Heart Life Insurance, shares an example of a well defined and organized internship:
At my company, we pay our interns to craft content and do research for our life insurance articles. We look for marketing, advertising / PR, education or journalism majors who are self-directed, detail oriented and in their last year of college. We give them the option to do 80% of the work from home, and we manage remotely to see who can write a solid, relevant article and keep to a timeline.
I think the best thing about hiring interns is that you get an extended job interview before they even hit the job market. Through this approach, you can find some extremely talented future teammates that already "fit" within your brand. We try to hire them whenever possible and they are a valuable part of our team.
Approach hiring interns just as if you were looking to hire an employee. Clearly state the job requirements and needed skills so that you have a sort of internship description to use when recruiting intern candidates.
What will their purpose be?
Having a specific purpose in mind should be at the core of everything your company does, and hiring an intern is no different. Before you hire, think about what goal or project should be completed by the end of the internship.
Having this end vision will help you formulate intermediate plans and tasks for the intern to accomplish. Interns want their work to have value and mean something. If they are coming to the office each day and doing meaningless tasks, or there is nothing for them to do, they’re not going to be too happy about it!
On the other hand, when an intern has a positive experience with your company, it can lead to good things. Properly structured internships that successfully add value to your company will give interns a sense of accomplishment. They’ll be more likely to share their good experience with people they know, leading to increased publicity for your company and potentially even more future interns.
Unorganized internships will reflect poorly on the company and without the proper direction, the intern will resent wasting their time and be ineligible for hire causing the company to miss out on a potential future employee. Collin Davis of Blue Digits shares his strategy when it comes to giving interns purpose:
Interns work doubly as hard as any other employee provided they are given responsibilities. I have worked in organizations before where the work that no one wanted to do was given to interns with many being just hired as data entry operators, typically doing the so-called “dirty work”.
People flourish when they see their bosses place trust and confidence in them. I treat interns just like any other employee, asking for their feedback, creating specific marketing strategies and providing them with ownership. No point hiring interns for the sake of internship.
A great example of a terrible internship is one I had when interning abroad at a university in Asia. I was really looking forward to learning and developing new skills as well as find out more about the career options available in the industry.
When I finally got there after a 20+ hour flight, nothing was ready and there was absolutely no structure prepared for me. I spent the internship being handed off from one person to another doing random tasks, attending meaningless meetings, and finally ending up becoming “the English guy”, sitting in a classroom for hours waiting for students to visit and practice their English on.
Not only did I learn little of value through the whole experience, but I also had to pay quite a bit for or travel, room and board expenses out of my own pocket as well. Needless to say, it was a waste of my time and talent and I made sure all other future interns knew to stay away from them!
Do you have the capacity for interns?
If your company has interns, you will need someone to manage and take care of them. If you yourself are too busy to walk them through their tasks, then someone else is required to use time and energy that could be put toward other activities to manage them.
The person you choose for this intern manager position should have leadership skills and a thorough understanding of your company. Taking a trained employee off a task to manage untrained newbies could be detrimental to your company and could cause lasting repercussions such as bad reviews and branding which can negatively impact the image of your brand.
Done right, it can be a win-win situation for everyone involved. Managers will have the capability to accomplish more tasks once the intern is all trained and interns will appreciate having mentors to teach them the skills they’ll need to succeed.
Making time to help them grow and learn shows them your great company culture and that you are willing to give back to others. It can also provide fresh insight for your team as well as a potential pool to recruit from.
While doing a projectship with ProSky, I got put with an amazing Mentor doing market research for their company. He had weekly meetings with us, gave us personal training and ideas to fulfill our tasks, and even sent us some sweet swag from the company. I learned a lot from him, and the market research I did ended up being used to help them successfully release a new product later that year.
Is there a way we can make this long term?
Similar to how onboarding takes up a lot of time and money, interns can eat up resources as well. A negative side effect of an intern is that after the time period is up, they will leave your company. Training takes up time from you and it is an investment of resources, so essentially the effort you put into developing an intern’s skills will leave with them.
In most cases, interns are leaving your company right after they become proficient, then the process starts all over again and you are wasting resources. Finding a replacement can be hard, especially if they were fulfilling meaningful tasks the way you wanted.
The best solution to this is to have the internship lead into a position within the company. Ideally, you are looking to fill some job positions and you can use the internship phase to see which role they can fill properly.
Ashley Williams, CHRO of Shufti Pro,
Numerous times, the internship leads to a permanent job because of the dedication and hard work interns put during their internship program. On the basis of these factors we have hired many interns and to say it was a good decision won’t be an understatement.
Moreover, I personally believe hiring employees that started as interns is a good hiring practice. This is because interns are often more reliable than other candidates because they have already spent time in the organization and are familiar with the corporate responsibilities. So if they are leaving a positive impact on business growth then why not hire them.
Make sure hiring an intern makes sense with your company’s succession planning and pathways. Think of the intern program period as a time to evaluate and assess candidates to measure their potential fit within the company.
There are pros and cons to both sides. If you do decide to hire an intern, make sure you have:
- Clear requirements – Just like hiring an employee, know what type of intern you want to hire to fit with your company culture
- Clear expectations- Make sure both sides understand what they hope to obtain from the internship
- Mutually beneficial – Done right, both sides will gain from an intern and leave happy. (or in the case of an intern being hired, continue on together happy)
- Potential for a long term position - If the intern performs well, make sure there is an opening for them in your company if needed. Hold on to top talent and don’t let your training efforts go to waste!
Hopefully, this gives you some ideas on how to approach the issue of interns. By keeping these things in mind, you can avoid common pitfalls and grow your company the right way. For more great tips on hiring and improving your company, subscribe to our blog Talking Talent and stay updated on the latest trends and methods.