You know that internships can be extremely valuable to student-learners, but what you may not realize is that internship programs can be valuable to you as a small business owner. Think of internships as long auditions for future full-time employees. While you may not reap immediate benefits from your student interns, you could find candidates with great potential and who are perfect for your company before they even hit the job market, giving you “first dibs” on top talent. The world of internships can be tricky to navigate with Department of Labor standards. Don’t cut any corners. Follow these steps to develop an internship program and set up the means to benefit your small business.
1. Identify Your Needs
Your very first step in developing an internship program will be to figure out exactly what your intern will be doing in your business. Keep in mind that while your interns will be looking to impress you, the primary focus will be on garnering experience significant to his or her field of study. Your needs will also help you discern whether or not you will have a paid or unpaid intern. For example, unpaid interns may not perform duties that directly contribute to your business’s operations (i.e. taking inventory, sending emails).
2. Paid or Unpaid
This is a decision you will also need to make early on. Paid and unpaid interns will have different roles in your company. Once you’ve decided which internship program is best for your company, be sure you understand all your state’s legislation regarding internships, minimum wage and labor laws. Depending on skill level, you should be prepared to pay $10-$30 per hour for paid interns.
3. Set a Plan
Before an intern walks in your door, you will need to figure out everything they will need in order to do their job. This will include a workspace and dedicated person or team to oversee the intern(s). You will also need to draft a clearly defined job description and a daily task list that will give the intern a good idea of what his or her goals and objectives will be, and what the student will learn. You should also indicate the hours and pay. Typically interns will do 10-20 hours a week, unless you have a co-op student who can work full-time hours for three to six months.
4. Begin Recruiting
There are online resources to seek out interns including internships.com, LinkedIn and looksharp.com. The best way to do this, however, would be to get your internship program registered with a school or college and then go through its Career Services office. Depending on what you offer, the first place serious students will look for valuable internships is through their own university.
5. Interview Candidates
Students can be difficult to interview because they are often professionally “wet behind the ears.” With little interviewing experience (let alone job experience), it can be hard to separate the timid from the inexperienced. Be sure to get references from any previous jobs held; professors and teachers can also prove to be great references as people who have witnessed the student’s work ethic, smarts and ambition. Don’t forget to include the intern’s supervisors in interviews. Chances are that you will not personally spend much one-on-one time with the intern. The person overseeing him or her needs to be involved in the decision making also.
The requirements for an internship program can seem overwhelming, but don’t let it deter you from this amazing opportunity to help a flourishing mind. The Small Business Association and Department of Labor are also great resources in helping you set up an internship program. Do your research and follow these steps. You’ll be mentoring, advising and molding an intern in no time.
Melinda is a founder and president of Quintessence Group, an award-winning marketing consulting firm based in Philadelphia, PA, serving Fortune 500 brands who target small businesses.