Would you love to hire an intern but are unsure how you’d go about finding one and whether it’s even legal? Here I’ll shine a light on the concept of internships and clear up a few myths while I’m at it. I’ll talk you through everything you need to know to help you create successful work experiences for your interns that are win-win for them and your business.
Hiring an intern has definitely become a bit of a trend for many businesses in recent years, particularly for start-ups. Doing an internship is also seen as a rite of passage for many young people leaving university. This is all very well, but many businesses came unstuck when it came to light that their approach was far from ethical. No wonder then that many businesses today are unclear as to what they can and can’t do when it comes to hiring an intern.
So, what exactly is an internship…?
Internships are basically structured periods of work experience. The best ones are those which offer an intern a worthwhile learning opportunity and a chance to do meaningful work. They usually last for a fixed and limited period; generally no longer than about six months, and they tend to appeal to young people just out of college or university as a way of gaining much needed experience and skills. This isn’t always the case though and internships can attract a range of people; including those looking for a career change and those wanting to return to the workplace after time out.
… and what is it not?
An internship is not a way of paying someone peanuts to do a job worth many times more, hiring someone on the cheap to be a glorified skivvy, or bringing someone on to do a job and not pay them at all.
In recent years this was how many businesses were treating interns; exploiting young people who were so keen to get a foot in the door that they were willing to do any kind of work, work very long hours and not be paid for their efforts.
Because of the media spotlight, a lot of this poor practice is dying out and a much more responsible attitude is springing up in its place. There are huge benefits to be had for both the intern and your business, if you get your approach right.
My top 4 benefits for businesses of hiring an intern
1. An extra resource
Interns can be brilliant for helping out during times when you know you’re going to be really stretched and a bit under-resourced. You can create a great short-term project for an intern, and you get some much-needed support from having a hard working and capable extra person in the team.
2. Develop new talent
Providing internships gives you a chance to nurture emerging talent in your field. Give your interns a valuable learning opportunity and maintain links with them afterwards, and when they’re looking for a ‘proper’ job, you’re likely to be their first point of call. In effect, you’re building a pool of some of the brightest people for future openings in your business.
3. Generate new ideas
If you offer internships as part of a rolling programme, you’re potentially providing your business with a constant stream of fresh insights and creativity you can tap into.
4. Boost your reputation
Then there’s the bigger picture. If your business is based in a local community that has limited employment opportunities for its young people, or if it’s based in a deprived area, you’ll be supporting local employability and social mobility. Don’t consider hiring interns just because it will make your business look good, but it’s true that having a strong sense of social responsibility is going to be great for your reputation, both as an employer and a company to do business with.
I often see business owners feeling dissatisfied when an intern doesn’t work out the way an employer hoped for. They feel confused that their bright and enthusiastic intern is making mistakes or being slow to get to grips with the work.
If you’re expecting an intern to hit the ground running, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment I’m afraid. This is nothing against the people who take up internships. Far from it. Remember though that your interns might well have come straight from college or university and have limited workplace experiences to draw on.
You will need to have the time and resources to support your interns. If you don’t, you won’t be setting an intern up for success.
If you need someone to join your business with the skills and experience already in place, and requiring little supervision, an intern is not who you should be looking for.
What to pay your intern
Firstly, you need to be clear what you’re expecting your intern to be doing. If they’re going to be doing work of any nature or description, you most definitely and absolutely will need to pay them, and the National Minimum Wage will apply. The only exceptions to this may be if your intern is strictly volunteering or shadowing and doing no ‘work’ whatsoever, or working for a charity.
My top tips for creating a successful internship
Write a task brief or project outline. It should clearly define the job and include a range of workplace experiences to provide a valuable opportunity for an intern.
Use one of the many intern websites like Graduate Talent Pool or Milkround to advertise your internship.
Develop relationships with local colleges and universities.
Have a proper recruitment process including interviews and a task, but focus less on experience and more on attitude, capabilities, and alignment of interests and values.
Take up references, just as you would for an employee.
Assign a manager before your intern joins you. This should be someone who is prepared to put the time into being a mix of mentor, supervisor, trainer and coach.
Link them up with a buddy to show them the ropes around the office.
Give regular feedback. Internships are all about the learning, and feedback that is considered, constructive and specific will be gratefully received.
I hope this has shown you that with the right approach, you can hire an intern and not only give them a valuable experience, but also have a very positive impact on your business too.
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