Getting the Most From Your Interns -- and Giving Back in Return
While internships may hold the key for college graduates' landing a full-time position, they are usually not top of mind for small businesses and entrepreneurs. With pressing problems ranging from managing cash flow to just overseeing day-to-day operations, new business owners may give scant thought to the idea of offering internships. Yet hiring interns for a startup can be a win-win scenario, especially if they are compensated for real work.
Overall intern hiring is slated to fall 3.4 percent this year from last year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. A recent survey by Internships.com showed that fall and winter and spring internships are quite common, though slightly more employers offer summer internships. Small businesses should seek out these opportunities: Your business benefits from new thinking and interns gain real work experience. Here are some ways to realize the maximum benefit:
1. Provide meaningful work. It used to be that interns came looking to do work and ended up fetching coffee and dry cleaning -- or at least that was the stereotype.
Be sure to offer interns opportunities that enrich your company and their career growth. Not only will the organization benefit from their completing meaningful work but they will also walk away with an experience that was engaging and worthwhile.
2. Offer compensation. At some point, many companies, even very profitable ones, realized smart students would work for free if given the promise of major rewards. This proved to be a form of economic Darwinism, in that young people of means were the only ones able to afford to work for free. Middle class kids took paying summer jobs. The elite took uncompensated internships.
By offering interns compensation or a stipend, you help level the playing field. The average hourly rate for interns ranges from $15.05 to $17.94. By paying, you will also probably end up with interns who take the arrangement more seriously. And interns may work harder as they see their contributions being valued by a company.
Related: The 6 Rules to Hiring Unpaid Interns
3. Widen the candidate search. Every year I learn about how a “plum” position was landed with parental intervention. The student didn’t come looking for a position. The parent made the call.
Whose dad knows whom? What firm owes Mom a favor? Networking is a time-honored tradition, but the student should be the one actively pursuing the job.
When hiring interns, don’t restrict your search to only those candidates who were referred to the company or young people already living in your geographic location. Go for the students with ambition who are looking on their own for work and demonstrating self-sufficiency. These are the interns you want working for the company.
4. Improve your management skills. While interns gain skills and build a new entry on their resumes, use this experience to further develop your management skills. Teach these young protégés the true ingredients of a successful work experience: seeking out and competing for opportunities, value being assigned to time and talent, people being treated by managers the way everyone wants to be treated and giving back.
Use this opportunity to help your interns receive the most from their work stint and for you to garner the most from them as well. You may be surprised by the creativity they bring to your company as well as the chance for you to fine-tune your management of employees.
My company has been providing full-time, paid internships since it started in 2006. I and other managers strongly believe that we have a responsibility to teach young people the value of learning from and working in a real business environment. We give them real work, real managers, real responsibility, real accountability and yes, a real paycheck.
Entrepreneurs hiring interns should thoughtfully devise a plan will not only benefit the student but also the company as well. Eighty-four percent of employers surveyed who have hired interns say it was a positive experience, according to Internships.com. And if it all works well, you may even have a lead for recruiting another full-time employee.
David Sederholt is the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Strategic Funding Source, a small business financing company in New York City. Previously, he has served as a biomedical researcher, restaurant owner, corporate executive, business consultant and owner of a commercial real estate brokerage firm.