In the past, interns were just seen at big companies during the holidays. However, they have now become a regular part of office life at businesses of all sizes. It is estimated that there are over 50,000 interns per year, but many businesses fail to make the experience beneficial for them and the intern. For instance, at some businesses internships are used strategically to identify talented people for hiring, whether now or in the future, and others use them as manpower for valuable research projects. It's time to change mentality that interns are hired to make tea, take photocopies or file papers.
At Internwise we regularly discuss with firms what they look for in their interns and many jump into it without thinking it through. So to make sure your company benefits, here are my five top tips on getting the best out of interns.
• Be clear on the purpose of the internship
Why do you want to hire an intern in the first place? Is it, for assistance, help with a certain project, or looking for a new member of staff and want to "try before you buy"? Perhaps you simply want to help unemployed youngsters get a foot on the career ladder through having work experience (a great way for businesses to help during such poor economic times). You wouldn't take on a new member of staff without having a purpose for hiring them - the same applies to interns.
• Write a clear job role
Interns are no different to any other temporary member of staff. When hiring a new staff, a well run business would create a job description to ensure their needs match the recruit's capabilities. Doing the same for interns is important. This job description identifies their responsibilities, plus gives a structure to their role and what is expected of them.
Another area that many companies overlook is the intern's terms and conditions. Identifying their start/end dates, which location they will work at or even if they are entitled to holidays can be neglected when interns arrive; yet it is a prerequisite which must be met in all well run organisations. You also must think about pay. If you are not paying at least the minimum wage there could be problems - using interns as cheap or free labour could land you in legal difficulties if you are not careful.
• Make sure they have a basic level of training
Well run firms have an induction process for new staff. This should also apply to interns. If they don't know anything about your business, they can't contribute to their fullest or be well motivated. Do invest time "tailoring" the candidate for the role/task you require, it pays off in the long run. They cannot be seen as "just another employee"; companies must have a clear strategy on how to approach the hiring of interns, and a clear plan to integrate them through their training can make them a great resource to the business. Compared to a new mid-senior member of the team, interns are not addicted to any procedures or specific ways to execute tasks. Everything is new for the intern and companies are being surprised by new and fresh ideas/views they bring to the process.
• Have someone responsible for managing the intern
During the internship, who will the intern report to? A manager is needed to structure their days and make sure they are being kept busy, while getting jobs that are within their capabilities. This is also a great time to have an employee improve their own management skills by being in charge of the intern.
However, don't forget that managing people at this level may not be easy. Each intern has a distinctive profile, with different past experiences. Some will be mature for their young age, compared to those who need this training to explore and find their full potential. Every intern is unique and your approach must cater to this.
• Keep the intern busy and motivated
Having interns sitting around waiting for gofer jobs or making tea will not encourage motivation. This is a great time to test interns and see if they have the skills necessary to work in your business environment and fit in with the company. Interns are open-minded and keen to learn. They need to be mentored, guided and nurtured to achieve their success. This internship will only benefit you if you keep them busy and motivated.
Making sure they have a constant stream of jobs which challenges them, encourages productivity and hard-work, something interns always want to prove. They know the value of doing a good job and are prepared to do much more than what the employer asks them to do. They take initiative, ask questions and arrive on time while staying out of office conflicts or gossip.
Rui Zamith is the co-founder of Internwise (www.internwise.co.uk) and is himself a former intern. Internwise is committed to partner with businesses offering a valuable resource to the local workforce.