Interns and internships are an essential aspect of the modern workplace. Valuable, real-world experience interns gain from employers may translate to new job paths or act as a prerequisite to compiling a professional resume. The companies they work for also benefit – interns may be a cost-effective way to combat a seasonable peak or an opportunity for companies to gain fresh insights.

What are Interns?

When thinking about an intern, the most common vision is of a college-aged person on summer break, or a recent graduate entering “the Real World” for the first time. These, however, are not the only types of interns. Many established professionals looking to make a career change seek out internships as a way to test out new skillsets or explore new opportunities.

Interns, of both types, typically enter an industry they are curious about but might not have the experience or expertise to be considered for full-time work. Internships are set for a pre-determined amount of time and may be uncompensated or compensated less than a full-time position as the same (or similar) job function. In exchange for this work experience, interns often are expected to do work that is of high value but often low skill labor, such as stuffing envelopes, running errands, or collating papers and organizing files or records.

How Do I Find Interns?

First, for college-aged intern seekers, try alumni associations. Many colleges and universities have career centers that sponsor career fairs and recruitment days and may even vet qualified candidates for you. Having a direct connection at a university, recruiter or other organization that has immediate access to large pools of qualified candidates will dramatically improve the quality of your pool of candidates.

The best time to find college-aged interns looking for summer employment is in the early spring. Many colleges recommend internships to students and may host career fairs during this time to provide upcoming graduates opportunities as they prepare to enter the job market. For year-round internships or to target people already out of college, make initial contacts at least 7-10 weeks before your desired start date to ensure sufficient time to find and interview qualified candidates.

How Do I Hire the Right Intern?

The term “qualified candidate” is an important one. It is tempting to hire your son or daughter or to create positions for your boss’ cousin’s niece because they “need the experience” or would otherwise “be bored during the summer.” Make sure you are addressing these two criteria before committing to a hiring decision:

  1. You are actually filling a need.
  2. You are actually hiring the most appropriate candidate. 

Interns, while falling just shy of regulations for minimum wage requirements (depending on how your legal team reads their function and status), are subject to the same Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) laws governing safe work environments, sexual harassment, and discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation, age and religion. Use your official hiring process or ask an expert like Align Workforce Solutions to help.

How Do I Create an Internship Program?

Be very clear about the expectations for your intern and for your company including, but not limited to:

  • Desired candidate skills
  • Desired skills to be learned by the intern
  • Hours per week per term worked
  • Monetary or other compensation
  • Desired return on investment for both parties involved

For instance, you may implement a large client database project and need assistance doing data entry or migrating old records. Identify the skills needed and then identify the benefits to yourself and the intern. Beware of unintended consequences! If part of the benefit of your internship program is for your intern to understand your industry connections, then having them sift through a client database makes sense – however, if it is not, then reassess the projects you assign your intern.

How Much Should I Pay an Intern?

Consider your company, the responsibilities and learning opportunities available, the visibility of the position, the cache of the position as resume material, and/or the intern’s potential to make valuable connections when deciding how much to pay them. If you offer a very sought-after, high-profile position that has a lot of future potential, such as a Congressional internship or assistant to the CEO, consider offering non-paid internships. If you are offering a position with grueling hours and a high-demand workload, consider offering stipends, hourly compensation or performance-based pay.

The Internship is Over – Now What?

Once the internship is over, always conduct an exit interview. Ask your intern what they learned; what they wish they learned; if the internship was accurately described/met their expectations and would they intern again with your organization, or would they accept a full-time position with your company (if appropriate). Think of the exit interview as a lessons-learned opportunity.

Hiring interns for full-time employment directly from your internship program is a great way to ensure high-quality technical skills and personality compatibility in a “try it before you buy it” scenario. Many interns seek full-time employment from their internship programs and will not intern again with the same company unless an increasing offer—in responsibility and compensation—is made. If you do not renew the internship or hire your intern (or sometimes if you do) you may be asked to be a professional reference or to complete required paperwork for their coursework.

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