This is the time of year when many small businesses get inquiries from students about spring or summer internships. So do you hire or not? Should you pay interns? How do you find the one that might…just might… turn out to be your next employee? Over the years we have offered internships at various times. Some of them worked well. In two cases, the interns became full-time employees right out of college. One experience ended up quite badly. The student was arrested for sexual assault a year or so after he completed his semester with us. The good news is that we had not offered him a job so we had nothing to fear when the media called because he listed us under his work history. I have learned a lot and maybe some of this will help others considering internships.
First, you need to determine if an intern is right for your organization. I recommend that you write a job description- just as you would for a new hire. If you have trouble determining the scope of the work then you might want to rethink it.
Second, what is your motivation for having an intern? Lots of business owners think it will be free help. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hiring an intern, even one that is very qualified, still takes lots of time and effort. You need to get them up to speed on your business, teach them your processes, guide them and provide meaningful projects. They are there to learn, as well as work. You also need to be prepared to do the paperwork that the college or university requires for the student to get credit.
Third, look at the reputation of the student’s college or university. What are they known for? Is it a hands-on on program… is it more theoretical? How much coursework or experience does the student have that translates well to your organization? I have found that students who are nearing graduation are a much better fit for us than younger students.
Fourth, is the student a good cultural fit? You consider this when hiring an employee and should also take note of it here. Interns who might work well in a larger organization where there are more resources and structure may not work well in a smaller company. I think self-starters who are highly energetic are a better fit for a smaller organization. The students also need to “be your brand” because they are a representation of your organization even if they are only with you for a short time.
Finally, consider the compensation you can offer. Most colleges and universities can help here. They may have guidelines or suggestion which you can tailor to your needs. I like to pay students because I believe it stresses the importance of doing a great job and helps motivate them.
I think that many small businesses can benefit from having the right intern. The best interns bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to your company. You provide them critical real world experience. Done right- everyone wins.