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The Ins and Outs of Internships: Hiring Interns

 With the return of autumn and the beginning of a new college semester, it’s a good time to consider whether hiring interns is right for your business. At HT Staffing, we’re great believers in the win/win value of internships—if you have a well thought-out internship management program. The company benefits from the fresh perspective, newly-honed skills, technical know-how and extra pair of hands an intern can bring. The intern gains real-world work experience in his or her career field of choice.

Many large companies engineer robust internship programs to fill their candidate pipeline with the best and the brightest. However, smaller organizations sometimes shy away from the investment of thought and time required to make internships function as intended.To help you create a program that works, we’re sharing highlights of our own approach. We’re also giving you insights from one of Texas’ foremost proponents of successful internships, Campus2Careers President Nathan Green. Campus2Careers operates the largest job board in the state for students and recent grads, connecting them with small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

Hiring interns for a role, not a project. Green’s top tip for business owners is to look at an internship as a role, not a project. He comments, “The ROI on an internship program is not good if you look at it as a project, thinking, ‘Let’s get an intern in here to set us up on Facebook and Twitter.’ If, instead, you look at it as an ongoing role, you can build continuity into the progress made on the initiatives that fall under that role.”

Typical roles an internship program might cover include social media, online and email marketing, bookkeeping/accounting, engineering design, IT support, and similar.

Green continues, “While that intern you have come to rely on may leave at the end of the semester, a parting responsibility can be to help you recruit, transition and train his or her replacement. And an ongoing duty can be documenting the progress and details of projects worked on and tasks completed. Otherwise, nothing of substance is accomplished.”

Internship management: documented expectations. The focus of HT Staffing’s own internship program is to grow young workers into business professionals by giving them an in-depth, hands-on look at the business development, research, project management and recruiting tasks our industry entails. The program is successful because it’s highly structured.

Our 28-page internship management guide details what the intern can expect from our program—and what’s expected of him or her. The guide spells out everything from the level of professionalism required for behavior and attire to the recommended approach for completing assignments (which includes encouragement to ask questions).

The guide explains the parameters against which we’ll assess the intern’s performance during periodic reviews. It also provides a survey form that allows the intern to evaluate his or her experience with us.

Green validates our systematic approach, pointing out, “You’ve got to remember students are used to a very prescriptive environment. In school, they’re told what to do, when and how to do it, and with whom. You’ve got to provide sufficient structure in the workplace for them to know what to do. Check in regularly with the intern to prevent problems before they develop.”

To pay, or not to pay? Unless your organization is a nonprofit, chances are you need to pay your interns at least minimum wage. The exception is in cases where your program is primarily educational, rather than focused on productivity for your company. Familiarize yourself with the Fair Labor Standards Act guidance on this issue. Additionally, some schools prohibit payment of interns if they are receiving school credit.

Here’s something else to think about. While you do want to treat the intern as a full-fledged team member, you don’t want to confuse the Department of Labor or the IRS about the intern’s status as a non-employee. We recommend you consult your CPA for guidance on this issue.

For a young adult entering the workforce, a well-structured internship is a resume-builder, a networking launch pad and a chance to gain practical work experience. For a company wishing to engage young workers in its employment mix, an intelligent intern strategy creates the framework for an ongoing role that benefits both sides of the intern/employer equation.

Does your company have an internship program? What do you consider management musts for positive results when hiring interns?

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