An increasingly common staffing solution is to hire interns as temporary employees for your organization. Internships are great for your recruitment efforts—they provide an excellent way to test potential employees before hiring them. Additionally, interns can help your company by filling in when you are tight with staffing or testing new ventures that you are not yet ready to dedicate full-time staff to. Let us offer you some tips to make the internship experience positive for both you and the interns.
Choosing the Right Interns
Interns don’t necessarily have to be current college students. Although internships aimed at current students are the most common, you can get better qualified interns by accepting recent graduates, or even people who have been out of school for a few years. The best choice for you will depend on your industry. For example, a consulting business will most likely have better results with recent graduates as interns than with between-semester interns who are not fully trained yet. Conversely, current students may fit a sales internship better because they will accept lower salaries than recent graduates, and they already have the skills needed to do a good job.
When planning an internship program, define who you need carefully. Don’t just go for current students because that’s what most other businesses do and/or because they are cheaper. Post-graduate interns are great “trial” employees that you can easily hire full-time upon the end of their internship, saving you a costly hiring process. Once you know what type of intern you need, choosing the right individual should proceed in the same manner as any other employee hire. You should take the same care in selecting interns and short-term employees that you would take selecting a long-term employee. The same hiring laws (regarding nondiscrimination, illegal questions, etc.) apply to interns that apply to short- and long-term employees.
Compensating Your Interns
The ultimate compensation of an internship is experience, and that is what interns expect above all else. In addition, many interns want college credit. If your internship is similar enough to vocational training, you can compensate your interns purely in college credit. However, we recommend that you pay your interns wages if at all possible—both out of fairness to them and for your own protection. You will likely get better work out of them if you do pay them, and the value they will add to your company will be well worth the wages you pay. If you intend to offer an unpaid internship, U.S. Department of Labor has released these strict guidelines regarding internship positions to help businesses comply with the law.
One responsibility that you accept when employing interns is that of measuring their performance. You should be measuring all your employees, so this should not be a huge issue. However, you may need to measure interns (particularly those who are current students) with their university’s scorecard rather than your own employee scorecard. These measurements are an important part of your intern’s compensation. If they are interning with you for college credit, these measurements are how they earn that credit.
Intern performance measurements are usually not much different from regular employee measurements. You will be measuring their work quantity and quality, and perhaps character traits such as motivation, creativity, or self-initiative. The scorecard will probably spell out how data is to be gathered, but if it isn’t, you should operate on these rules of thumb:
- Where possible, gather quantitative data (such as number of deliverables produced) from your accounting database.
- Get qualitative data from multiple sources (such as a supervisor and a manager) to minimize any biases that may come up.
The data you gather for these scorecards will make the decision of whether or not to hire the intern an easy one. Also, if you are using a collegiate internship scorecard, you may gain some insights that will help you improve your own employee performance scorecards.
Partnering for Internships
Setting up partnerships with specific colleges or universities can be a great way to minimize the hassles and maximize the benefits of hiring interns. If you always get your intern from one of three or four universities, you will know:
- What the universities expect for credit
- How they want you to measure intern performance
- What industry standards and practices they teach
- How qualified their students will be as your interns
With these things in mind, you can set up a highly successful internship program. You can fill staff openings quickly either with tried-and-tested interns, or promote other employees and fill their positions with interns. You can also maintain good relationships with the community through the positive experiences you provide the interns.