It’s officially internship season. Once an elective stop on a career path, internships are becoming de rigueur for high school, undergraduate, and graduate students looking to beef up their resumes to later land that dream job. Internship programs can also be an excellent resource for small businesses, especially startups that are cash-strapped, fast-growing, and need help in drawing good talent.
Internships can be a launching pad to great things. Just ask Bill Gates and Oprah, who were interns themselves. But in order to attract top talent to your small business, you’ve got to offer the young recruit valuable experience and a killer internship program. Here are a few tips on running a successful summer internship program to make your small biz the talk of the internship town.
- Offer a real learning opportunity – Making coffee and copies won’t do. Bright, energetic interns want a chance to do something meaningful. Although you can start with basics, gradually increase the complexity and scope of the job so your eager talent feels a sense of accomplishment.
- Find great interns – While the importance of finding great interns is obvious, actually finding them isn’t. If you’re a startup or fast-growing small business looking for an intern, check out StartupRoots and Urban Interns, which matches qualified interns with innovative, small businesses.
- Set challenging, but attainable goals – Don’t expect a writing intern to win a Pulitzer, a science intern to develop the next great patent, a sales intern to land your company’s biggest client, or a tech-savvy intern to build the next Facebook. Setting goals outside the capabilities of your intern may lead to frustration, while goals that are too easy will bring on boredom.
- Don’t babysit - Interns should be mentored, not watched like a hawk. You can put them on a leash, but make it a long leash. Interns come with a huge bucket of enthusiasm; don’t stifle it.
- Resist the opportunity of only giving grunt work – Sure, most interns can crunch numbers, build spreadsheets, and organize the supply closet, but give them an opportunity to get “out there” and meet clients, make sales, or give presentations. You’ll help them grow while getting a chance to assess their interpersonal and “working under pressure” skills. Most interns want to learn, don’t give them busy work.
- Enforce deadlines - It may be summer, but it’s not summer camp. Let your interns know that their work is very important to the success of your business, and that you expect deadlines to be met — and work quality to be high.
- Abide by Federal Labor Laws – In order for internships in “for profit” companies to qualify as unpaid, they must meet six federal legal criteria — as outlined in this United States Department of Labor fact sheet. If these six criteria are not satisfied, then an “employment” relationship exists, which means the intern must be paid.