Interns are valuable assets in many small business workplaces.
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If you think that interns are just coffee makers or errand runners, you have seriously underestimated their value. Today's interns are highly motivated young people with a desire to work on meaningful projects in a real-world business context.
The success or failure of your internship program has little to do with the interns themselves. In most cases, a negative internship experience is the result of a poorly executed internship program. As the business owner, it's your responsibility to make sure your program has been established on solid ground.
- Define parameters. The establishment of an internship program begins with the business owner defining what she wants the interns to do. Although interns won't be capable of independently carrying the ball on major projects, they can probably do more than you think. If you aren't willing to let your interns participate in activities outside the copy room, the internship will be a waste of their time and your effort.
- Write a job description. Like all of your employees, interns thrive when they have a clear and meaningful job description. Keeping in mind that your interns may only be available for a season, define the scope of the activities you want them to do and the outcomes you expect before their time at your firm runs out.
- Pay your interns. Interns may be cheap, but they shouldn't be free. Unpaid interns are less committed and less focused on accomplishing measurable outcomes because they are less invested in their work. It's also been proven that companies who don't pay their interns usually don't give them meaningful work in the first place.
- Advertise and recruit. Attracting talented interns is a job in itself. Universities and colleges are a great place to look for interns, but there is competition for the best candidates. Post advertisements and establish relationships with faculty or university representatives to cull the wheat from the chaff.
- Screen and interview. Some internship applicants won't be a good fit for your business. You'll need to determine how many interns your company is capable of handling and then conduct an interview process to select the ones that show the most promise, acutely aware of the fact that internships can translate into permanent hires down the road.