Do you have good-for-nothing interns, or worse, none at all? Nathan Green would like to change that. Internships changed his life, and he’s on a mission to make internships an equally valuable experience for the next wave for college kids and entrepreneurs.
“I had three internships in college and switched my major after each one,” he discloses. Now, years later, Green and his business partner Jay Whitchurch have started campus2careers, a company that aims to match up current college students and recent graduates with internship and entry-level positions at small and medium-sized businesses.
Green believes that small businesses could better leverage student talent by building more effective, annual internship programs that offer many benefits, including building capacity, accessing new skills, identifying future employees and offsetting labor costs.
Read on for key advantages and tips he’s identified to help you build a better internship program.
Advantages of Hiring Interns
- Access to talent and skills that wouldn’t otherwise be available. Most of the top students get scooped up early in their senior year by big companies, so an internship sophomore or junior year gives you first dibs.
- Access to lower-cost labor. The Kaufmann Foundation suggests small business owners value their time at$100 per hour. So even a paid intern frees up your time and gives you a huge cost advantage.
- Opportunity to mentor young people, help develop skills and give back to the next generation.
- Ability to try out different people and positions. Since hiring interns is cyclical, you can try different interns as well as create or modify positions until you find out what works best.
Tips for Hiring Interns
1. Think of your internships as an annual program, not a one-off need.
Green says that the first step in getting the most out of your interns is to change the way you think about them, or, in his words, “to shift your paradigm,” so that you’re thinking of interns as “a recurring resource you need in your budget,” rather than as short-term laborers hired to complete a one-off task or project. Instead of hiring in terms of deliverables, “hire someone to build and maintain your website or to run your social media initiatives,” he advises, “to build a job they want and you need.”
It may be counter-intuitive to give larger responsibilities to short-term employees, but doing so actually provides more benefits to the business owner. Defining clear responsibilities and setting goals will foster a self-sustaining hiring system, Green argues:
You know [your interns] are gonna leave eventually, so you can prepare for it. It’s actually a more predictable situation than with employees. After your first interns have defined their own roles, ask them to find their replacements by referring friends or classmates. The first intern builds the job, the second intern improves it, the third one refines it, and so on. Either way, you can count on an intern all year if you plan and budget for it.
[Some people] might say it’s not worth the time it takes to train your interns and that you’re only getting a three-month value for a two-month investment. But, if you do it right and create a system where interns are finding their own replacements, educating and training them for you, you can get at least one full year of labor out of it. It’s completely scalable hiring and training!
2. Build the experience you would’ve wanted in college.
“Would you have done the job you’re offering when you were that age?” Green asks. Every small business owner—whether they went to college or not—ought to know what a compelling job looks and feels like. Create a job that is interesting and gives an intern the opportunity to learn. If you offer a position that’s valuable to someone, whether due to money or increased skill level, then he or she will provide value to your business, and you’ll be reaping the benefits described above. Green concedes that sometimes interns are given the most mundane tasks out of necessity, such as data entry, but he argues that it shouldn’t be an excuse for you not to elevate their roles: “It’s OK to let [interns] do data entry, but maybe also pay for them to take a class to increase their skills.”
3. Set expectations and define incentives clearly and up front.
Green says that, even though this point is the most obvious, it is also the least followed in his experience. He advises business owners to be clear about in the job posting as well as during the interview. “Go ahead and ask a student during the interview what they want out of the job,” he says. “Sometimes the answer is to build up their resume or simply to make money, but more often than not students will be satisfied with compensation in the form on training or unique experiences that will give them an edge in the job market.” Being flexible with incentives can create a mutually beneficial agreement between you and your interns.
4. Treat the student like a full-time employee; get rid of “just an intern” mentality.
Green says that as long as you’re paying your interns (as you should be, assuming you’ve “built them into your budget” like he recommends), there is no definitive legal definition between an internship and a part-time job. Legalities are related to the hours your interns are working—which shouldn’t exceed 30 hours or else they’ll be considered full-time—not the tasks they’re being given. He advocates treating interns no differently than if they were full-time employees, which means that every opportunity available to your employees should also be available to your interns. “Assume that your interns will become future employees,” he says. “Keeping them will give you the best return on your investment.”
5. Formalize the internship with forms, core hours and clear lines of accountability.
In order to get your interns to show up every day, to be accountable and act like employees, requires you to add structure to their daily work lives. Green proposes using a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that will lay out the goals of the intern and expectations they have about the job. (You can find this and other internship forms on the campus2careers Business Resources page).
“The last 16-18 years of their lives, these students haven’t been asked to be personally accountable—schools and their parents keep them in check,” says Green, “but when you make them accountable and autonomous, you’re teaching them career skills, which is what internships are all about.”
If you are looking for an intern this summer, go to www.campus2careers.com to get matched with your top college candidates from all Texas schools and beyond.
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