Internships are valuable learning opportunities for students to gain experience in a field they're interested in – or even someone looking to switch careers. Businesses benefit from welcoming interns in many ways, too. Interns can assist with a project or be an extra set of hands to tackle daily work. They can offer new perspectives and ideas. And they can grow into part or full-time positions – with both the intern and the company feeling confident about their skill set and their overall fit.
What internships aren't is free labor.
At Uprise, we brought on our first intern this summer – a recent grad from a local high school who headed off to college this fall. He learned a good deal during his tenure – and so did we.
Here are some tips for hiring an intern:
1. Pay Them
Old-school internships were often unpaid. Some businesses still don't pay interns, but this approach excludes so many fantastic candidates. For students and others who need a paying job to pay for school or other bills, accepting an unpaid internship just isn't an option – even if it's the most incredible opportunity at a stellar company. It's a disadvantage for them and a potential loss for you.
At Uprise, we pay our interns more than minimum wage. And we give them raises if they surpass expectations. For example, I don't expect an intern to be able to work on client projects. Sometimes an intern turns out to be a rockstar, and they can tackle client work. That deserves a raise.
2. Find an Intern Who Is Excited to Learn
Look for a naturally curious person who is excited to learn and dig in. They'll be motivated to figure things out as they go. It's a lot harder to work with an intern who needs step-by-step instruction for every small task or who isn't motivated to learn and ends up accomplishing nothing.
Before your intern comes on board, ask them what they're most excited about doing and learning and what they hope to get out of the internship. When preparing their project plan, include work that aligns with their interests – something they can run with. Guidance should be available, of course, but this is an awesome opportunity to let them explore a bit.
3. Prepare Their Project Plan
Before an intern arrives, prepare a project plan for them. Take into consideration that the level of training and support they might need will vary, and they may or may not complete everything in the plan. Your intern might turn out to be more productive than planned, too, so have some work in the wings just in case.
Foundational Skills - Your intern doesn't have to have a background in what you're doing, but make sure they have some foundational skills on which you can build. If you're looking for a digital marketing intern, for example, ensure they are a good writer and that they enjoy keeping up their personal social media feeds. If you're looking for a software engineering intern, find out if they have a programming language under their belt – or they're learning one - so you know you can build from there.
Set Aside Time for Them - Dedicate time and resources to on-boarding and showing your intern the ropes – it's not helpful for anyone if your intern shows up on day one and there's no one to show them around and get them started. That means someone on your team should expect quite a bit of time with them upfront to help them understand the project and be available for questions and review along the way.
Develop a Project Mix - Identify a couple of types of projects so the intern has the best experience possible. One can be more fluid and give the intern a chance to experiment or problem-solve on their own a bit. Another project could be more defined, perhaps something that's closely aligned with or exactly what your team needs help with. In the latter case, you'll need to train your intern how to do it. And since we all learn differently (some by doing, some by reading step-by-step instructors, others through repetition), expect to learn how best to teach your intern – and be patient.
Remember that interns are not employees. They need an experience that's valuable to them. They need the space and support to learn, whether they're being groomed as a future team member at your company or gaining experience to prepare them for a role elsewhere.
This internship might be their first job or their first job in a corporate environment. The basics of your workplace – organizing to-do lists, responding to emails, using your technology – might be a big adjustment.
One of the biggest mistakes people make with interns is expecting them to show up and take over simple tasks as cheap labor. Maybe they can, but tasks your company deems "simple" might not feel so simple to someone new. Besides, they're interning so they can acquire new skills, see a company from the inside, and GROW. That's the point of an internship.
In the case of our most recent intern, after he completed his summer internship with us, we offered him a part-time job. We were blown away by his hard work and know-how and wanted him to continue as part of our team. And that part-time job came with a pay increase, because he's no longer an intern.
An internship at your company should prepare an intern to do well wherever they go.