Our small company — which, like all small companies, is strapped for bodies and resources — is considering bringing on two or three summer interns. Half of me thinks this is a great way to get some help with projects, tap into the knowledge of a younger generation and give back to our local students. The other half of me thinks this is going to be a management nightmare that will suck my working hours dry. How can we ensure a successful summer for everyone involved?
Well, here’s my first question: Are you planning to pay these interns?
Why does this matter? Because in order to have unpaid interns you have to meet ALL of the following criteria:
• The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training that would be given in an educational environment.
• The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.
• The intern does not displace regular employees but works under close supervision of existing staff.
• The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.
• The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.
• The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
So, if you want unpaid internships, you basically have to set up a situation where you are getting no benefit at all. I’m guessing this won’t help you (because legally, unpaid interns can’t help you). Now, to be honest, there are tons of companies that have illegal unpaid interns, and no one says anything because that’s just how it has always been done. But, that doesn’t mean you should follow their example.
The answer then, for unpaid interns, is a resounding no. Management headache. No benefit. Just a pure act of service from your company (which isn’t a bad thing — service is good, but know what you are signing up for).
Let us then address the second option: paid interns. Should you do that? Well, my bias is going to lean towards yes, because I want good, thoughtful managers to have first crack at training employees how to work and succeed in the business world. Here’s how you can make your decision.
What do you want done? If you are behind on data entry and filing, it’s better to hire a temp. Interns are going to expect to do meaningful work. They expect to be invited to important meetings and work on real projects. Since you’re going to have to pay anyway, if you need menial tasks done, hire a temp.
Are you looking for polished and perfect? Most interns are anxious to get in and do work, but they’ll not only need supervision, they’ll need revision. This means the same task that might take an experienced employee three hours will take your intern longer. You’ll have to take a look at first drafts, offer feedback and have time for revisions.
Are you open to new ideas? One thing about interns is that they are often up on the latest academic research but don’t have any real world experience. They are likely to think they are experts when, in reality, they don’t have much of a clue. But don’t let that lack of practicality blind you to the ideas they come in with. They have been listening to their professors and reading industry publications you don’t have time for. All this means they might have some great ideas if you’re willing to try them out. The internship will be far more meaningful for the intern if someone listens.
Are you good at feedback? All employees need feedback, but interns especially need feedback. This may well be their first job in a non-retail or restaurant setting. They have tons to learn, from dress codes to hierarchies to the importance of arriving on time. You’ll need to be good at speaking up on these issues often. Additionally, many interns are also trying to gain school credit for their internships, so you’ll need to fill out an evaluation form for them.
What can you expect from an intern? Well, you can expect someone who is excited to learn and grow but may balk at some of the things you did when you were an intern. You can expect to have steep learning curves, but you can also expect to get good, solid work back — as long as you allow adequate time and supervision. You can expect to have some problems and some clashes (which you can get with experienced staff as well). If you’re lucky, you may just find someone who is awesome and wants to work for you full-time after graduation.
If you’ve thought through the above things and think an intern will work for you, then go ahead and hunt down a few. There are companies that list open internships, or you can always contact the local university. If you’re open to students from a variety of majors, you’ll get a better pick.
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