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Tips for Hiring Interns for Your Small Business

Internships are common at large corporations, but even small and midsize businesses are jumping on board to hire an intern. An internship is a mutually beneficial opportunity that provides the intern with real-world experience and gives you some extra help around the office. It’s important to create a solid internship program and to know how to hire interns effectively.

This guide covers everything you need to know to hire an intern for your business.

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What is an internship?

Internships are short, real-world learning experiences where students or recent graduates work for a company. Through this supervised work experience, interns gain hands-on skills and learn how to apply the things they learned in their college coursework.

When you hire an intern, you’re responsible for creating a structured learning experience that meets the requirements of the college, if the intern is doing the internship for college credit. This means that you can’t just hire an intern for cheap labor without putting some work into making the experience beneficial.

Reasons to hire an intern

Before you figure out how to hire an intern, you might wonder if it’s worth it. Not all businesses want or need an intern, but there are several advantages.

Here are some reasons to hire an intern:

  • Fresh perspectives: Interns are often young and full of new ideas. They’ve just learned the latest best practices in the field and are ready to test them out. Having interns can inject new perspectives into your business, which can spark creativity and generate innovative solutions.
  • Extra help: One of the biggest advantages of having an intern is the extra help you have around the office. You won’t set your intern loose on large projects, but you can get help with some parts of your projects to ease the workload on your staff.
  • Recruiting method: If you plan to hire permanent employees soon, an intern could be a prospect. The internship gives you a trial period with the intern, which lets you decide if you want to make a permanent job offer.
  • Company cheerleaders: Your interns can become your biggest cheerleaders, which helps spread the word about your company.
  • Leadership opportunities: Having interns gives your full-time staff a chance to serve as mentors and take on leadership roles. This can make them feel empowered, and it gives you a chance to see who has management potential if you’re thinking of promoting someone soon.

Drawbacks to consider

Hiring an intern can be a good thing for your company, but there are some potential negatives to explore.

Here are some drawbacks to consider:

  • Increased cost: You often have to pay an intern, which adds to your costs.
  • Lack of commitment: Since internships are short-term, some interns aren’t committed to your company’s long-term success.
  • Poor performance: Not all interns are serious about the work. They might be immature, or they might not be ready to work full-time.
  • Time-consuming: Developing an intern program is time-consuming. Once your interns start, your full-time employees will need to spend a lot of time working with them. This can reduce employee productivity overall.

Where to begin with hiring an intern

Planning an internship program takes careful consideration of how the intern will fit into your company. Developing a detailed program helps you balance the learning experience for the intern and the workload of your current employees. Consider the following steps when developing your internship program:

1. Consider the overall goals of an internship program

You might start by making a list of specific benefits or goals that you would like to see fulfilled within an internship program. For example, you might want to position your company as a leader in the industry, or you might want to use internships as a recruitment tool.

Perhaps you want to use interns during your busy season for extra help. You might also want to consider what specific benefits an intern’s productivity will bring to your organization, such as increasing your market reach or building brand awareness.

2. Plan out your internship program

Next, plan out the specifics of what your program will look like and what you want to achieve. Some things to include in your internship plan include:

  • Length of the internship, such as six months or nine months
  • Departments where you might hire an intern, such as a marketing department intern
  • Number of interns you’ll have at one time
  • Projects and tasks the intern will handle
  • The screening process for hiring interns
  • Salary and perks for interns if you’re offering a paid internship

3. Define your ideal intern

Knowing what you want in an intern helps you recruit and interview candidates. Most interns won’t have industry-specific job experience, but you might look for other skills and qualifications. Things to consider include:

  • College major
  • Soft skills, such as communication and teamwork
  • Relevant hard skills, such as basic accounting and math skills for an accounting intern
  • Research experience
  • References from professors

4. Outline an evaluation method for reviewing interns

Consider how you’ll implement a review system for evaluating interns’ work performance and productivity. You might include strategies for implementing improvement plans, professional development training or other approaches to helping your interns develop and advance in their careers.

5. Set up the interview process for hiring

Think about how you want to direct the hiring process for interns. For example, you might want to conduct phone screenings to ask interview questions, or you might want to hold behavioral interviews, similar to the ones you use for hiring regular employees.

You can also implement an onboarding method that serves as an initial orientation and probationary training for new interns. As you develop this element of your internship program, create internship roles that are professional and meaningful to both the intern and your organization.

Read more:7 Intern Interview Questions and Answers

6. Develop a training program

Interns expect to get value out of the position, especially if they’re doing an unpaid or low-paying internship. Create a robust training program that gives your interns valuable skills they can use in future jobs.

Mentors and hands-on training are two good ways to help interns learn new skills. The specific training can vary by position and should meet the specific needs of the intern.

7. Adhere to labor laws regarding internships

Finally, make sure you adhere to the laws surrounding internships and offering work to interns. Typically, hiring interns within a private, for-profit entity can mean it’s illegal to hire unpaid interns.

Similarly, if your organization falls under certain guidelines, you might be exempt from offering paid internships within your firm. It’s best to do some research to determine which category your company falls under, so you follow best practices and adhere to internship regulations.

Tips for recruiting an intern

Once you have your plan for hiring an intern, you need candidates. Finding interns isn’t always easy, but the following tips can help you with recruiting an intern:

Partner with a college

Finding a connection at a local college can give you an in with students who are looking for internships. Introduce yourself to professors in your field at local colleges, so they might recommend your internships to their students.

Most colleges have job boards where you can post advertisements when you’re hiring for intern positions. Consider having a booth at career fairs at local colleges to meet more students who might be interested.

Use social media

Talk about your internship program on all social media channels to spread the word about the opportunities. You might turn the camera over to your current interns, so they can give their perspective. A day-in-the-life post about your interns can also encourage new candidates to apply.

Your followers might know a college student who is looking for an internship. Since they’re already fans of your business, they’ll be happy to recommend your internship to people they know.

Post online advertisements

When you’re ready to hire an intern, you can post an advertisement on Indeed just like you do with full-time positions. This can help you reach potential interns across the country who are willing to relocate. Include keywords that let job seekers know the position is an internship.

Start a referral program

Once you get your internship program underway, look to your current interns for referrals. As college students or recent graduates, they likely know plenty of other people who are looking for internships. Include a prize, reward or bonus in your referral program to encourage more recommendations.

Best practices and things to avoid

There are several best practices that you might want to consider before implementing your internship program and during the hiring process, as well as several things you should avoid.

Best practices

When hiring interns, follow these best practices:

  • Assign specific tasks that are meaningful
  • Set objectives that help interns learn essential skills and techniques that can lead them to successful careers
  • Offer regular development training for interns to help them gain a deeper understanding of your brand and their role within your organization
  • Provide consistent, effective feedback to help interns gain valuable work experience and on-the-job training
  • Mentor interns in creating professional development plans with specific goals to help them build their industry knowledge and learn new skills

What to avoid

Things you may want to avoid when hiring an intern include:

  • Assigning too many tasks or projects to interns, as this can lead to them becoming overwhelmed and making errors
  • Offering interns a variety of professional development options when working, such as shadowing different departments, because they may become overwhelmed and forget what they need to do for each task
  • Setting your expectations too high or too low to keep interns challenged and motivated

FAQs about hiring interns

The following frequently asked questions can provide some additional information on hiring interns and developing an internship program:

Are internships part-time or full-time roles?

Whether your internship program takes on a part-time or full-time schedule depends on your company’s unique needs and goals. For example, a part-time internship position might be appropriate for a particular project or specific tasks you want the interns to do.

You may also be required to provide some form of benefits, such as medical, paid time off or sick leave, if you hire full-time interns. Depending on your organization’s situation and preference, it can be a good idea to find out what benefits you’re required to provide to full-time interns.

What is the difference between unpaid and paid internships besides the salary?

The key difference between unpaid and paid internships is that in some circumstances, it can be illegal to hire interns without providing some form of income for work performed. Typically, unpaid internships follow specific guidelines, such as being a part of a college or university training program.

In these cases, they’re usually considered student internships or coursework practicums. If your organization is considered a private, for-profit business, you may be required to follow salary regulations for hiring interns.

What makes an internship program good?

The best internship programs give interns meaningful tasks, not just busywork, and tailor the experience to the individual’s area of study and future goals. They have a plan for teaching and mentoring the intern and might offer outside training or speakers. Interns appreciate an internship that makes them feel like a part of the team and allows them to make professional connections.

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