Is Your Company Ready for an Intern?
An intern can increase company productivity by bringing fresh ideas and energy, completing substantive projects, and providing full-time employees more time to focus on other tasks. You probably have several projects that you could use an intern for, but the prospect of finding, hiring, training and supervising one can be daunting. As coordinator of the Interns for Indiana program, my job is to work with startup companies to help them determine whether they are ready for an intern, and then help them find and work with a student who can contribute to company growth. Below are some questions I ask when companies are considering an intern.
What do you hope to gain from an intern?
An intern should have a substantive project rather than just “getting coffee and answering phones.” There may be times when this type of work is appropriate, but this should not be the primary function of your intern. Good projects that keep your intern enthusiastic and motivated may combine meaningful primary responsibilities, such as performing lab tests or developing a software module, with necessary secondary tasks such as preparing and cleaning the lab area or testing existing code.
What will the intern do?
Be realistic in your expectations of an intern, but also challenge the student to develop skills and help your company. Students are accustomed to the structure of weekly homework in their classes, so it is important that the students have clear assignments and measures of success outlined for them. This is done for your benefit and theirs.
When determining the areas an intern would be helpful, think broadly. There will be candidates with a variety of skill sets and interests. You may be a computer consulting company, but you still have accounting needs. You may not find a match for your electrical engineering needs, but perhaps your employment manual needs updating. Having a variety of possible projects in mind will make it easier to find an intern. Keep length of internship in mind as well. Consider projects that can be completed successfully in the time you have the intern.
What sort of training will be required?
Students are generally highly motivated and eager to contribute to your company, but they are still students. They will require appropriate training. Training takes time and skill. How will you do this training? How long will the training period last? Who will be training these students? These are important issues to consider when planning for an intern.
Who will supervise and mentor the intern?
An important component of making an internship successful is the supervision of the intern. Who in your company will play this role? While you do not have to continuously monitor interns, they do need guidance and someone to help them connect with the company and guide them in the projects. Regular face-to-face interactions are vital for this purpose. Ideally, each intern is also assigned a mentor.
How will the interns’ progress be measured?
Students are accustomed to instructions and feedback in school, so they expect and work well with clear guidance and regular feedback. What are the project goals and deliverables? How will these students know if they are meeting their goals? It is important that these things be determined and clearly communicated. At the start of the internship, meet with your intern to create SMART goals or a Learning Contract to facilitate both discussion of project goals and performance evaluation.
If you can address these important issues, consider hiring a student intern. While having an intern is a short-term commitment, it is an excellent opportunity to “try out” a potential future employee. Many interns accept an employment offer from their host companies after graduation, and according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the average retention rates after one year and five years is much higher for company interns than for hires who interned elsewhere or not at all. The effort you expend to plan for and host an intern can be a great benefit to your company, during the internship and beyond.
How will you know when your company is ready for an intern? Leave your comments below.