Even in the fast-paced land of startups, many companies still don’t fully utilize their youngest employees: interns. Instead of taking advantage of their passion and motivation, they saddle them with busy work in place of meaningful assignments. It's clear most companies still don’t know how to incorporate workers whose tenure is temporary.
Companies both big and small need to take a different approach to their internship programs. Not only are interns potential full-time employees, they can also be a source of limitless enthusiasm, hard work and can offer a valuable outside perspective. For your business, employees and interns to get the full value from your relationship, you should establish a program that clearly defines interns’ role in your company. The internship program should also include policies, expectations and accountability for both the intern and the team they join.
Here are a few pointers to get your started:
1. Vary responsibilities.
Give the intern both day-to-day team responsibilities (as you would an entry-level employee), as well as a long-term project. Students (and most people) like to learn, so show them as much about your business as possible. Projects should be meaningful to your business -- such as a competitive survey -- and a real learning experience for them. Plus, they will have something substantive to talk about in an interview with a future employer (which might be you).
2. Pay them.
Not only is an unpaid internship in a grey area in the legal system but interns should be paid enough to live in a new city for a short period of time or to survive in the town they live in while helping your business grow. Also, additional compensation can also come in other forms, like bonus incentives for projects completed, free workday meals and all the client gifts you’re taking anyways.
3. Bring them into the company culture.
Hopefully as a company you have some kind of event that your office can rally around, whether that’s tickets to a baseball game or even just the occasional happy hour. Regardless of the tradition, be sure to clue your interns into the fun. It’s a great way for them to connect with colleagues outside of their supervisor and team -- and can help them to gain a better appreciation of what your company is all about.
4. Offer regular feedback.
Whether this is through monthly meetings with their supervisor or an end-of-internship review session with the team, they need to know how they did and what they can work to improve. Establish a regular process for this feedback and evaluate their work product as it comes in.
5. Identify a dedicated supervisor.
Before you even onboard your intern, make sure that you have a person dedicated to training and guiding them through their experience – and perhaps most importantly– wants to do these things. Their supervisor shouldn’t be the lowest-level employee, otherwise the intern will assume that you don’t take them seriously. At a minimum, you should have a supervisor who is able to motivate your interns so that they will go back to college with great things to say about your company.
6. It’s OK to let them go.
If someone isn’t working out for any reason, don’t let it drag on. Be honest in your feedback and make this part of the learning experience. Be sure to pay particular attention to helping the ex-intern with the language around how to accept this setback, learn from it and position it to the rest of the world (and future employers). Maybe you can even help them to find an internship for the rest of the summer at a company better suited to their skills and temperament.
Interns don’t have to spend the next three to four months at your company merely filling out spreadsheets and fetching coffee. With the guidance of a few of these processes and suggestions, your intern can have an educational experience and make a real impact on your company as well.