What is an Intern?

An intern is a trainee or student who works, with or without salary, to satisfy an educational requirement or get work experience. Interns usually work for a period of three to six months. Often, interns will be college students working for salary or credits towards their degree.

Why Are Interns Useful?

While interns may be inexperienced and only play a complementary role in the workforce, they can still be a valuable asset for companies in all industries. An intern can perform entry-level tasks in your organization while receiving the opportunity to gain experience in a field of interest. You can also hire interns on a voluntary or unpaid basis to reduce salary costs on jobs that would otherwise be filled by entry-level staff.

Interns also bring new insights and ideas to your company which can foster creativity and innovation. Because they often come from a younger generation, interns tend to be more tech-savvy,  you can use their perspectives to gain valuable feedback and drive innovation for the social/online segment of your business. An intern program is also great for building a strong employer brand and developing a recruiting pipeline of young, qualified professionals who are familiar with your company. As interns speak about their experience at your organization; they will essentially advertise your company for free.

By hiring an intern, employers can get a sneak peek at what the individual may offer as a full-time employee. This can make the process of transitioning that individual into a full-time role much smoother than traditional recruitment methods.

Building a Successful Internship Program

You can build a great internship program for your organization by adhering to some key principles.

  • Make your internship program selective from the beginning – Constrained and careful selection is vital to a successful program. Even though interns are not full-time employees, successful interns can easily transition into a full-time role so they should be treated as such. Additionally, interns will still be representing your company brand and interacting with full-time employees so you want to make sure they are well-qualified to do so.
  • Provide your interns high-priority and meaningful projects – A lot of companies fear assigning interns to their valuable assignments. This is not a healthy practice as key projects are likely to motivate your interns, and greater accountability can persuade them to put in more effort. Nobody wants to be stuck filing papers all day. By giving your interns meaningful projects you will have a much happier and engaged intern and increase the likelihood that they will consider a full-time position with your company.
  • Invest more resources to train your interns – If your interns experience substantial learning and professional growth during their time with your company, they will be more inclined to return as full-time employees. Investing resources in your internship programs also helps foster a good reputation and build your employer brand. In college environments, word of mouth has a strong influence on the perception of your business as a potential future employer, so having a solid onboarding program will serve you well.
  • Treat your interns as if they are full-time employees This will benefit your company by developing a group of individuals who are open to feedback and collaboration. Everybody wants to feel like they are part of something and like they are making a difference. By treating your interns as regular employees, you will get a more involved and valuable intern.

Below are additional key factors to consider for your internship program:

  1. Any internship should be comparable to training provided in an educational setting.
  2. The experience should benefit the interns.
  3. The company providing the internship should not derive any immediate benefit from an unpaid interns’ activities under the FLSA federal law.
  4. The interns must not displace your regular staff, rather, they should work under their supervision.

How to Hire Interns Effectively

Hiring interns is similar to hiring permanent employees. You will have to create job descriptions with defined objectives and work assignments, as well as plan for how your interns will be trained and supervised. It’s also important to state exactly how an intern will benefit from your internship program in your job description.

As for the medium that you should post your internships on, it’s relatively similar to a conventional job posting. Using major job sites like LinkedIn, Indeed and Glassdoor as well as employing social media recruiting best practices will ensure you have a solid flow of internship candidates.

Another great way to find interns is by leveraging your relationship with universities. Most universities will have some form of internal internship/job posting board run by their career services office where you can advertise your opportunities. Also, be sure to attend any career fairs hosted by universities you are interested in recruiting interns from. This is an effective way to get your company’s name out there and meet candidates face-to-face.

Once you have found qualified candidates that you want to bring in for interviews, be sure to tailor your questions to someone who is still in school or has just recently graduated.

Some sample interview questions for interns include the following:

  • Tell us about your coursework: do you feel that your education has prepared you for this position?
  • What extracurriculars are you involved in at your school?
  • What kinds of skills do you hope to gain from this experience?
  • Why do you want to be an intern here?
  • What do you know about the industry?
  • What are your goals after graduation?

Having a well-thought-out interview process will not only make your company seem like a better opportunity for interns, but will also make it easier for hiring managers to choose the best candidates for the job.

Legal Steps to Keep in Mind

As with hiring regular employees, there are some government established rules and regulations that employers need to be aware of when it comes to hiring interns. These rules do not cover maximum or minimum hours an intern can work – however, paid interns have a right to get a minimum wage set by the state government. They are also entitled to overtime pay when working over forty hours a week.

For the full resource on intern laws, please visit the Department of Labor website.

Next Steps

Internship programs can be a great resource for both employers and candidates. Employers gain the benefit of having an extra set of hands and a new perspective, while interns gain knowledge and skills that will help them in their future career endeavors. Evaluate whether having an internship program at your company would be beneficial to both you and the intern before hiring, this will ensure a good experience for both parties.


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