Entrepreneurs and business owners are looking for ways to do more with less.
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However, it can be difficult to boost productivity without increasing costs. This is precisely why the idea of bringing on an unpaid intern can be so enticing.
But you know the old saying: "there is no such thing as free lunch (or labor)."
Offering unpaid internships is more than just pulling someone off the street to do gruntwork and run errands for free. You have to be willing to provide both an arrangement and an environment for interns to fulfill their career growth and educational goals as well. Otherwise, not only do you risk your company's reputation, you may expose yourself to possible legal action as well.
Here are some guidelines to hiring an intern for your business:
Post the opportunity on online internship sites. Some popular websites of this nature include Internships.com, UrbanIntern.com, and CareerRookie.com. Placing an ad under the appropriate "jobs" section on Craigslist is also an option.
Clarify expectations. In your ad, spell out exactly what you want from an intern. List the areas or tasks that the intern will be exposed to. You might want to ask your interns what they expect out of the arrangement as well. Whatever you do, do not promise them paid positions after their internships end. If they impress you, you can always extend a job offer to them at a later date.
Set start and end dates. In many cases, internships are set up around college semesters, which are about four months long. Some correspond to three-month long summer breaks. Avoid arrangements which last longer than six months.
Schedule workdays and work times. Establish specific days and times when the intern will be working at your company. Try to set up at least two different days per week. Don't let interns' schedules exceed 20 hours per week; any more might not pass legal muster.
Appoint a mentor/supervisor. Though the intern may work with several employees and in several departments, they need to have one boss that oversees their internship program. This supervisor should not only assign tasks, but also offer feedback and suggestions.
Give them real work. It's all right to give interns menial tasks or errands once in a while. But be sure to involve them in the actual day-to-day operations and the periodic meetings at your company (even if they only observe). That's the only way they'll be able to gain the experience you promised them as part of the internship.
Maintain consistency among your internships. If you hire several interns, make sure all of them are treated the same way. Don't pay some interns and make others work for free. Also, make certain that their workloads and ranges of tasks are comparable; showing favoritism can lead to trouble.
Give them perks if possible. Just because they're not earning money doesn't mean they won't respond to incentives. Free passes to events, invites to corporate social gatherings, or even company swag can go a long way toward demonstrating your appreciation.
End the internship correctly. Be sure to complete all the necessary evaluations and paperwork each intern needs to present to his or her school in order to receive credit. Write each intern a letter of recommendation that can be used when applying for jobs. If possible, set up an exit interview to see what they learned and how you can improve your internship program.
When you view interns, keep in mind that they were once like you – hungry, inexperienced, and ready to learn. If you can channel their energy into an internship at your company, not only will you give them valuable real-world experience, but you will also benefit from a well-motivated (albeit temporary) employee.
And who knows? If you stay in contact with them after their internships are complete, you may be able to use the relationship to help your own business improve in the future.