All you need to know about setting up a winning internship program
"At the end of the day, investing in an intern will always be worth more than it actually costs you."Julien Haeck, HR Officer
When you're putting your heart and soul into running your business, the actual amount of work you're taking on might go unnoticed. But as soon as you realize that some smaller, routine and/or easy tasks are taking your attention away from the bigger picture, you should stop and think about whether there's a better option.
Taking on an intern could be the perfect solution - a win-win scenario.
Speaking from experience
Working in marketing and communications, I have tutored and benefited from the help of several interns. Every experience was different - some trainees were outstanding, some good, some so and so. On the whole, they were extremely helpful.
Why bring in an intern in the first place?
You're hiring an intern because you're looking for a helping hand, someone who'll take on diversified tasks that will actually benefit the both of you. That might include getting coffee, but in very limited amounts and always with a “please" and "thank you”.
This is why I always try to arrange a program that served my needs and provides the intern with an ascending learning curve.
Don't approach your internship program as an afterthought. Rather, consider it an important element of your staffing plan.
Keep in mind that interns aren't meant to replace employees or to merely take on unwanted tasks.
What value can you provide an intern?
This is a question worth asking. You know why you need someone - but why should they come and spend their time as cheap or unpaid labor at your company? You expect them to impress you with their skills. They expect you to impress them with what you can offer - location, field, learning opportunities, company culture and even the possibility of being hired at the end of the internship… Even if they're an intern that needs school/college credits, you need to promote your company as an appealing place and an opportunity for personal and professional growth.
What can you offer? Try to think of things you and your company are great at. Try to think why the tasks that you need help with could be interesting for the trainee. Is there anything they can learn from what you'll be asking them to do?
Research, analysis, drafting simple reports, SEO, events marketing automation - these are some of the areas that interns supported me in.
Do you have the time and skills to tutor an intern?
When taking on an intern, don't forget to ask this question. An internship, at its core, should be about learning.
Before setting up the recruitment process, identify a few people within your company that can act as tutors and points of contact. Hiring an intern comes with a time investment - tutoring, explanations, the occasional contact with their school, etc.
When it comes to an internship organized with a school, college or university, the tutor/s from your company will be responsible for assigning projects within the framework of the educational plan, organizing on-the-job training, Q&A and providing constructive criticism. The student should be able to discuss with the supervisor/s regularly; consider whether it is easier for your company to achieve this through scheduled meetings or an "open-door" policy.
In order to maximize both my time and theirs, I created a guide featuring what an intern should know. The guide included details like basic information on the field we were working in, notes on writing style, protocol for attending an event and a social media 101. As well as taking notes and writing down tips throughout the experience, at the end of the internship I always made sure to chat with the intern so I could make improvements for future trainees. I can assure you it's very rewarding to hear things like “This experience has taught me so much” or “There's nothing I'd change about your internship program”. You get things done while helping people starting out. Does it get any better?
Can you provide extra educational opportunities?
By extra educational opportunities I mean added extras that your company can offer and that have nothing to do with getting the work done. For example, are some of your peers attending or giving training on a topic that could be useful for the intern’s learning curve? If so, then include the intern.
At my old company, the best interns got to join the marketing team at national or international conferences such as the TFM&A, some got to benefit from Google Drive training at the company’s HQ, others simply took advantage of any webinar that was available at group level.
Remember, investing in the educational and professional development of your interns is also something you'll benefit from in the short and long term - you'll have more skilled workforce, and the intern's peers will see your business as dynamic and willing to invest in young potential developement and talent. This will boost your public image both in terms of internships and external communication.
Can you offer some sort of payment?
Payment – whether a small stipend for expenses or an hourly rate, is certainly a strong incentive for interns and also shows that you appreciate their time and efforts.
It's critical that employers find out beforehand if they're legally obliged to pay an intern, and then follow the letter of the law. This will prevent potential disputes.
Before setting up an internship program, find out the regulations in your country. Is payment or school credit mandatory?
You should be able to find more information on this by inquiring at your Ministry of Labor or Social Affairs and Employment.
Will an intern cost me money?
Yes. Even if you don't pay them any actual cash, there are hidden costs you can't overlook.
For starters, there's the time you invest – answering quick questions, giving further details on tasks and processes, etc.
You might also incur in physical costs like needing to set up a working station for the intern especially if you don't already have what's needed - furniture, computer, internet connection, etc.
Administrative costs are often taken for granted. HR will need to set up a specific recruitment program (and make sure it fits with the Human Resources plan of your company), have regular contact with the intern and maybe create a specific type of contract.
Lastly, expenses. Should the intern incur onsite expenses (during training, at an event or on a business trip), it's likely you'll have to reimburse them.
After reading this article, do you feel ready to take on an intern? Let us know in the comments.
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