Build an internship program that benefits your business, team, and interns with these tips.
For small business owners, hiring interns can be a great way to complete special projects, bring in a fresh perspective, or find new talent. It’s important to establish a process that ensures the experience will be mutually beneficial for your business and your intern.
Establish roles and expectations
Before you start interviewing, make sure you have a clear vision for the role interns will play on your team. Is there a special project you’d like them to complete? Will they be assisting a certain team member or department? The clearer you can be during the hiring process, the more likely you will find the right candidate.
“Have a plan up front that includes goals and objectives and a clear set of instructions about the tasks and tactics required to achieve those goals,” says Robin Salter, chief marketing officer at KWIPPED in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Keep in mind that inexperienced interns may need additional training and direction. “Help them understand the context of their tasks and how they contribute to the larger business goals. If they understand how their work is having a positive impact in other areas of the business, they will begin to see the value and feel like a valuable contributor,” Salter says.
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Don’t just hire anyone
Establishing clear goals before interviewing interns can also help you choose candidates that will be interested and engaged in the work you want them to accomplish. “We select interns who have an intrinsic desire to serve a specific area of team needs, and we give them the job that aligns with that orientation,” says Mark Talaba, president and COO at the Gabriel Institute in Philadelphia. “This ensures that they will feel the sense of meaningful contribution that is so important to millennials.”
Providing them with meaningful work will also establish a professional relationship based on respect, which can impact the quality of your interns’ work. “Treat interns as young professionals, not day labor,” says NFIB member Glenn S. Phillips, CEO of Lake Homes Realty in Birmingham, Alabama, and member of NFIB’s Alabama State Leadership Council. “Don’t have them running for coffee or cleaning the office unless it’s something regular staff do as well.”
Make them part of the team
Because they’re often short-term employees with part-time hours, interns can feel isolated. Welcoming them and properly integrating them into the team will make the experience more beneficial for the intern, your business, and the rest of your staff.
“The most important thing a business owner can do to ensure intern success is to make the intern feel like a valued employee,” says Todd Horton, founder of KangoGift in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Treat the intern as you would treat a full-time employee, and he or she will repay you with enthusiasm and commitment. This means invite the intern to team meetings, solicit input, and ask for active participation.”
While interns are often willing to work without pay, offering an hourly wage or stipend will attract more valuable candidates. More importantly, some states enforce stiff penalties for businesses that avoid paying employees by calling them interns.
“Generally, if you are a for-profit business and are ‘getting the most out of’ your intern by having them do work an employee would do, they are probably employees,” says Nance Schick, an attorney at the Law Studio of Nance L. Schick in New York. “Proceed with caution, and pay them at least minimum wage.”