I remember when I was in college studying to become a TV news reporter. I loved interning. I'd visit the local ABC station two to three times a week, as a full-time student with a job. I learned so much more in that internship over the course of 10 weeks than I did attending class for years. In class, you’re learning. At an internship, you’re doing.
But if you're an independent worker or run a business out of your home—whether permanently or just for right now—hiring interns can be tough going. Despite the proliferation of remote work and the rise of an entire economy unbound by traditional offices, attracting high-quality interns to nontraditional businesses is no easy task. Here's a look at the most common obstacles and what it takes to surmount them.
I run a public relations firm from my home in Florida. When I tried to place an ad for an intern with a local university, I was told I needed an office location connected to the business. This school followed guidelines set by the National Association of College and Employers, and apparently that's one of them.
Don’t get me wrong, I love working with people face to face, but that simply isn't the norm any longer. Remote work arrangements have been widespread for years already, and the trend is gaining steam not just for solopreneurs but at the corporate level too. Just this month Amazon announced a pilot program offering some of its tech workers shortened, 30-hour workweeks in exchange for proportional pay cuts, responding to employee demand for more flexibility. And those teams will only need to work fewer than half of their hours together on-site at the same time.
When it comes to hiring the best, it just doesn’t make sense any longer for companies to limit themselves to a 30-mile driving radius, especially when so much of the work we all do is digital. If someone lives two hours away but would be a great employee or intern, why not hire them virtually and communicate on the phone, by email, Skype, or Google Hangout?
Like it or not, higher education's attitudes toward interning still dictate your options to a considerable degree. When I asked attorney Alexander Orlofsky why universities may still prefer directing their students to office-based internships, he says, "Historically, I think the prohibition was more to protect the students from a liability perspective. Home-based businesses probably wouldn't have worker's comp or commercial liability insurance."
But that issue isn't necessarily a disqualifier. Orlofsky suggests verifying your homeowner's or renter's insurance to make sure there are no exclusions for in-home workers. And if your setup does give you cause for liability concerns, ditching location-based work and offering an all-remote internship instead is more doable than it's ever been.
Interning with a home-based business can be even more beneficial to a college student than interning in an office. And when you advertise your internship, you need to sell candidates on why.
Students are busy. Between school, jobs, and a social life, the thought of commuting to and from an internship may be an inconvenience. But if you give students an opportunity to learn—really learn, by actually working and not going on coffee runs—you may have a leg up on more traditional employers, especially if you can offer a flexible schedule. After all, that's something they're likely to look for when it comes time to hunt for full-time work.
Most people with home-based business don’t sit in front of a desk all day. I spend (too much) time in Starbucks, Paneras, and other local meeting spots to visit with colleagues and clients. It's more than appropriate to bring an intern along, and can offer them an inside look at your business dealings—how you interact with clients, negotiate deals, and move big projects forward. So make sure you tell prospective candidates they'll get a front-row seat they might not get someplace else.
(As an added bonus on your end, your own options for public meetings increase when you add a college student to your team. Have you seen all the great spots around a college campus? The Wi-Fi possibilities are endless.)
So what do you need to pin down in order to attract good interns?
First, home-based businesses need to evaluate their needs. Do you need just an intern or could you really use paid, part-time help? If it's an intern, Orlofsky recommends meeting with internship offices at local universities. If your trade is taught at the university, meet with the faculty who teach the subject and offer to speak in class.
Usually interns receive credit for the internship, so and if you establish relationships with professor or the career office, you might have better luck. After all, NACE's guidelines aren't necessarily hard-and-fast rules that every institution follows to the letter, so taking the time to build a network of contacts at local schools can open up opportunities you might not have had otherwise.
But make no mistake: it isn't easy. Whether you're looking for an intern who can work at your home office or remotely, competing with well-oiled internship programs at big companies is as difficult as it is unavoidable.
In one week, I received three emails in response to my ad for interns. One student was nearing graduation and wanted a full-time paying job, so she turned the opportunity down. That’s understandable. One just sent his resume as an attachment. There was no message in the body of the email. Sorry, buddy. The third applicant wrote a short message, so I was feeling better about her on that basis alone. But as soon as I asked for a meeting near campus, I was ghosted—no response.
I thought about following up, but then I remembered my 21-year-old self at Ohio State University. I was so excited to intern. I was the one following up with the TV station to get the opportunity I needed. Without that internship, I wouldn't have gotten my job in New York City, which led to my job in Beaumont, Texas, where I met my husband. Then I moved up in the TV news industry to Fort Myers, Florida, and then to Miami. I credit my internship for all of that.
So I ultimately decided not to write back to either of those two students. But since the workplace trends are moving in my direction, I'll keep trying. And so should you.
Christina Nicholson is a former TV reporter and anchor who now owns and operates a full-service public relations firm, Media Maven. She is getting ready to launch "Master your PR," an online course that teaches small business owners and marketers how to handle public relations on their own.