This summer, thousands of students and young professionals will be on the lookout for a coveted summer internship. In today’s cutthroat job market, internships are the new way to land a job and secure an entry-level position before the competition.
While you may be part of the 97% of employers who plan to hire interns this year, I implore you to seriously consider everything that goes into a valuable internship program.
As Peter Parker’s uncle once said, "With great power comes great responsibility." The same goes for taking on an intern. Popular culture has glamorized the internship world; you may think it’s okay to send an intern to get your dry cleaning or have them be your personal coffee runner. The truth is it’s not.
Internships are meant to be learning experiences. They are supposed to build resumes, increase skills and knowledge, and provide young professionals with mentorship opportunities. If you can’t provide students with those things, you’re doing them a disservice—not to mention your company with the poor image you portray for your brand.
With summer internship season on the horizon, you must evaluate whether or not you should take on an intern. Here are the questions you must ask yourself:
Q. Do I have experience managing young professionals?
Managing young professionals is a different ballgame. They have alternative needs, wants, and expectations. If you’re not willing to at least meet them halfway, I urge you to evaluate whether or not you should hire an intern this summer.
According to Vicki Lynn, senior vice president of client talent strategy and employer branding at Universum, young professionals crave guidance and support in the workplace. In addition to being partial to long-term rewards, short-term projects, and apps and hacks that streamline operations, they may also be intimidated by "super-smart" colleagues in their early 20s. Understanding these factors can help you to manage your interns more effectively and create a better experience for everyone.
Q. Am I able to provide interns with real work experiences?
Interns don’t want to be your personal errand runner. They want real work experiences, the ability to perform in their field, and to know they contributed to the success of your organization. If the goal of your internship program is to find someone to run the copy machine dry, I suggest you hire an assistant, not an intern.
If, by chance, you see the value in real work experiences, hire interns that can bring something to the table. For instance, those with transferable skills or prior experience under their belts will have an easier time fitting in with your organization.
Q. Do I have time to train, mentor, and monitor my intern(s)?
Here’s a big one: Do you have the time to be an internship manager? It’s a simple question that often goes overlooked. If the point of an internship is to create beneficial learning experiences, you must have the time to train, mentor, and monitor your interns. Your intern shouldn’t be completely left to their own devices. That’s just not how it works.
Let’s say you hire an intern for your growing team, but the nature of your job means you’re on the road meeting clients or closing deals quite often. This equates to little face-to-face time with your intern. Without guidance, your intern goes at it alone, sometimes guessing at how to best perform tasks. For instance, let’s say your intern was in charge of managing your Twitter account and revealed company news a little too early. While it may not seem like a big deal, this has the potential to damage relationships or anger investors. But, if they don’t know any other way, is it really their fault? Nope. It’s yours.
It’s your responsibility to give them real-time feedback and help them grow. If you don’t have the time to train, mentor, and monitor your interns, don’t hire one. No excuses.
Q. Am I able to provide competitive compensation?
You’ve probably heard of the slew of lawsuits and controversies revolving around internship programs. In fact, organizations like Conde Nast shut down their internship programs altogether after class-action lawsuits. Many of these lawsuits had to do with proper compensation—or lack thereof.
Providing competitive compensation isn’t just the legal thing to do. It’s the right thing to do. Many students and recent grads are on the fast track to heavy student loan debt. While paid internships aren’t the only solution to solving debt, it provides interns the opportunity to be financially independent. It also makes your program more attractive to diverse students—studies show that African American and Latino student are the highest percentage of college students leaving school with loan debt. Offering competitive compensation opens up your program to those who wouldn't otherwise be able to take on unpaid opportunities.
If you can’t offer at least federal minimum wage, I encourage you to offer alternative forms of compensation, such as stipends, health benefits, skills training, networking opportunities, event attendance, or company outings. While nothing replaces cash on hand, these alternatives can create a more active and engaged internship workforce.
Peter Park’s uncle knew what he was talking about: If you want to take on the responsibility of an intern, you have to be ready to actually manage them—after all, they have the potential to impact your brand in a positive way. If you can’t provide these key elements, you won’t be able to create a meaningful and long-lasting experience, both for the intern and for your organization.
What do you think? Are you hiring an intern this summer?
—Nathan Parcells is the cofounder and CMO of InternMatch, an online platform connecting the best intern candidates and employers. Connect with Nathan and InternMatch on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
[Image: Flickr user Kristin Nador]