With college students back in school, now is a great time to consider starting a college internship program for your office. The benefits to you are obvious:
You bring on inexpensive and enthusiastic labor; you create a channel for potential recruits and hires; it's a chance to try-out a possible employee and you get an extra pair of hands.
The student gets work experience, a resume stuffer, professional development, contacts, (hopefully) a letter of recommendation and maybe even a job. So it’s a classic win-win.
Or is it?
The fact is, a poorly-planned internship can turn what should be a positive experience into a regrettable one. Having once spent three excruciatingly long weeks during an internship in an empty office with absolutely nothing to do, I can attest that a bad internship can sour everyone.
Here are some tips to help you create a great internship program:
1. Plan, and then plan some more: Many small businesses want to bring in an intern because they think it is a cheap way to get help. While somewhat true, there is much more to it than that; and if that is all you expect and plan for, you will likely be disappointed.
An internship program works best when the intern is given real and realistic assignments and the organization is prepared to give the intern the necessary assistance required to succeed. So before hiring any intern, ask yourself:
- Are you prepared to invest the time necessary to make the experience a valuable one for the intern?
- Do you have a suitable supervisor / mentor?
- Can you offer more than menial projects?
- Will the rest of your staff engage the intern?
- What exactly will the intern do?
2. Post and interview: Work with your local college recruitment office and/or business school. Create an honest job description and get it posted both physically at the school as well as online where appropriate. Make sure that your internship description includes:
- Job title
- Hours and pay (if any)
- Duties and qualifications
- A description of what the student can expect to gain from the position
Treat the interview process as you would any other hiring experience. You are looking for someone capable, ambitious, hard-working and who will fit your culture. Also, although some companies are trying to get away with offering unpaid internships, most interns still will expect at least some minimal compensation.
3. Get ready: Interns of course are inexperienced, so the easier you can make their transition into the work-world, the better it will be for both of you. What will the intern do the first day, the first week? Make sure the person who will be supervising the intern has a plan in place. Have assignments ready, and ease the intern into them.
Similarly, it is smart and often expected to have some fun experiences prepared: an afternoon at the ballpark or a dinner with a partner, for instance.
4. Meet and greet: You will likely find that an intern who is greeted warmly on the first day and who is given get-to-know-us materials will blend in much more quickly. Have some icebreakers and help the intern meet the staff. Go out to lunch together the first day. The more you let interns know from Day 1 what is expected of them and what they can expect, the higher the likelihood the internship should go smoothly.
5. Supervise: At a minimum your intern will need a hands-on supervisor, but even better would be a person who would be more mentor than boss. You will need a staff person who has the time and temperament to do the job right. The key is to give the intern enough feedback and direction so that they can do their job well, help you, and still advance their career goals. That will require good supervision.
6. Balance good assignments with the bad ones: Let’s face it – not every assignment can be a great one, but not every one should be a crummy one either. The trick is to create a balance between assignments that you need done that may not be very sexy and a few that should be both memorable and challenging for your intern.
7. Evaluate: After the internship ends, it is a good idea to get feedback from the intern, his or her supervisor, and other members of your team. This will ensure that your program continues to run smoothly and that smart decisions are made.
Internships are a great way to infuse your business with some energy and inexpensive labor. If you make it a good experience for your intern, the opposite will likely be true as well.