Ah interns. The butt of so many jokes: going on latte runs and picking up dry cleaning, making copies, and wandering cluelessly around the office. There’s a lot of debate surrounding internships for just this reason: paid or unpaid, many interns are hired as a convenient source of cheap or free labor for the jobs nobody wants to do. Because of this, many small businesses aren’t sure if hiring an intern or two is a smart move. Ethical business owners obviously don’t want to take advantage of interns (or break the law), and are often concerned about not having the time or resources to devote to an intern program. With that said, internship programs can be a good idea for some small businesses—as long as they’re carefully planned. So, is hiring interns the right move for your business?
What is the Intent of an Internship?
The internship was conceived as a mutually-beneficial partnership: to allow students and young professionals to learn on the job and gain valuable skills for future employment, all while contributing an extra pair of hands to busy businesses operations (limited by certain rules and regulations). While some companies respect this partnership, others exploit it, unwilling or unable to provide any valuable knowledge or experience, while taking advantage of free labor. If you’re thinking of taking on interns, here are some factors to consider before making a decision:
You’re Stuck in a Rut
If you’ve been in business a while, working with the same small team of people, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. You may not be trying to make radical changes to your business, but a new perspective can be just what your business needs to spur innovations. Interns are young, eager, and usually willing to contribute their opinions.
You Have Something to Offer an Intern
Whether you’re offering a paid or unpaid intern, you need to be able to offer your new team member some valuable knowledge and skills they can take away from the experience. In theory, the internship is meant to benefit the intern more than the business, so it’s important to make sure your interns are getting value from contributing their time.
You Have Specific Tasks for Them
Got a special project? That could be a great opportunity for interns to get some real work experience, and for your business to clear out some unusual assignments.
You Should Not Hire Interns If…
You Don’t Have Anyone Qualified for the Position
Need marketing? Don’t hire an intern to create your new plan. That’s not their job. If you don’t have anyone qualified for the position, don’t hire an intern. They won’t have a mentor, and won’t be able to learn. In some cases, this can also be illegal.
You’re Only Interested in Saving Money
If you are only hiring interns because of cash flow, just don’t. It’s unethical, and is often illegal. Remember, this is an opportunity for students, not a cheap labor source.
You Won’t Consider Hiring Them On
If you’re thinking of interns as a temporary, finite resource for your business, you might want to adjust your mindset. You’ll be investing time in your interns. If an intern does a stellar job, you should at least be open to the possibility of hiring them on full-time if it’s the right fit. Communication and constructive feedback are key for intern development, and interns who prove themselves often get hired on.
You’re Too Busy to Offer Training
It’s okay to be busy. It’s normal as a business owner. But if you don’t have time to eat lunch, then you probably don’t have time to offer meaningful training to interns, who are new to the working world and may have to develop basic skills. Make sure you have the capacity to oversee young workers before you decide to start an internship program.
How Do You Set Up an Internship Program?
If you think an internship program might be right for you, how do you find the best interns? Many college students are eager, bright, and ready to take on new projects, while others are just looking for something to put on their resume. So how do you choose the best candidates? Sometimes, they come to you. Many students are on the lookout for internship opportunities every year.
If they’re not already knocking on your door, one of the best ways to approach the problem is to contact local universities and discuss the possibility of a partnership. Students will have the structure of working with advisors, and often receive college credit for the project. Remember, it doesn’t matter if your office isn’t in an awe-inspiring skyscraper. What matters is that you’re willing to invest in the talent of the future, and are prepared to teach your interns what you know.