Congrats! Reaching a point in business where you are able to develop an intern program is a momentous accomplishment. You’re playing an important role in training the next generation for workforce excellence, and that should be celebrated. But, once the initial excitement levels out, it’s time to get cracking on the logistics, goals and resources needed to drive a successful program.
Intern season can be an extremely busy time for small businesses and startups that don’t always have the resources to build Facebook-type programs. It’s a great opportunity for small businesses to have access to energetic and less expensive workers who can help tackle the many odds and ends of running a business. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that youth (ages 16 to 24) employment rates jumped about 12 percent last summer with a total of 53 percent of youths entering the workforce. That said, figuring out how to run a legal and mutually beneficial internship program for young adults looking to enter the workforce can be challenging.
As the founder of an HR startup, I can attest to the trial and error that goes into creating a strong and effective intern program, and along the way we have developed some go-to tips to help foster success. These tips have worked for our intern program at Justworks and may help fellow startups and small businesses when capitalizing on intern season this summer:
Source and hire candidates legally.
Developing an internship program that meets the numerous, and at times confusing, legal requirements can be tricky, but there are a few ways you can ensure you meet all standards. Companies that can’t afford lots of paid interns still have options like hiring fewer interns, scaling back hours to create a part-time position or, if you’re a nonprofit, using interns on a volunteer basis, in which case they don’t need to be paid. Whatever you decide, be sure to check federal, state and local laws for the applicable minimum wage and overtime laws.
Keep in mind that many interns become full-time employees down the road. Consider the higher costs of recruiting a new full-time employee with that of hiring a past intern who’s already familiar with your company -- the latter could save you money in the long run. All told, think creatively about how you can pay your interns appropriately while working within your budget.
Tackle the interview process.
When interviewing an intern for a new position, a common reflex is to ascertain an intern’s skillsets and eagerness to succeed. But, it’s important to first determine whether the internship will be a match on both ends. Don’t just focus on grilling candidates and asking trick questions, but rather let the conversation flow and let them know right away if it’s a fit.
It will be helpful to break down the position itself: Will the internship be administrative? Will there be really tight deadlines, or high expectations on deliverables? Once you pinpoint specifics, you have to relay this information and what would warrant a successful internship to the candidate. Oftentimes, interns are just starting off in their career and don’t always know what they’re looking for, so being upfront and honest will ensure you find the right fit for both parties.
Foster goal management.
Whether you’re a startup just launching your program or looking to breathe life into a larger, pre-existing program, it’s important for your new hires to understand how their internship position is contributing to the company. Their experience will be more fruitful if they can see the bigger picture and goals and realize that they are a vital part of your shared success.
Set up time to sit down and outline a plan that includes specific projects and deliverables that interns will face throughout the course of the internship as well as goals that will help them meet expectations. Seeing concrete progress on assignments can really boost their self-esteem and motivate them to bring new ideas to the table. It’s important to be clear on expectations and differentiate between where contribution is needed and where creative freedom is welcome. This will allow for a higher quality of product for the company and a better learning process for the intern.
Include and help with meeting comprehension.
The best way to expose interns to different parts of the company is through interaction with employees on other teams. While it seems simple, a surprising amount of people don’t consider looping in interns on day-to-day meetings, which may be a missed opportunity for a fresh perspective. Remember that interns are just starting off and being asked to attend an important meeting can be a great learning opportunity for them to spend time with senior leadership and gain insight on project thought process.
Whether they are taking notes or contributing ideas, inviting interns to meetings will allow them to soak up information and learn secondhand how to give a good presentation or keep everyone on schedule. Once the meeting wraps, make sure to touch base and go over discussion topics, project goals and actionable next steps to make sure they understand the importance of follow-through and that the ball doesn’t stop rolling once you leave the conference room.
No two interns are identical, just as no two programs are alike, but these tips have helped Justworks establish a program that has proven to be a productive and symbiotic relationship for everyone involved. Determining how to source talent legally, tackle the interview process, foster goal management and help with meeting digestion have been some of the avenues we’ve taken. Following these best practices can also help our fellow startups turn starting an internship program from an intimidating initiative to an exciting new venture towards success.