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Using Interns

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Using Interns

by Stephanie Stewart

Internship programs give small businesses a good way to recruit talent, especially when they can’t afford to hire new full-time staff. Over the past 10 years I have been an intern and I have supervised interns, and I found both roles rewarding.

As a supervisor, I try to let interns demonstrate their skills, to make them feel they are part of the team, and to help them get the portfolio items they need when they leave, such as ads they designed or books they proofed.

In my experience, interns are paid entry-level salaries. Many work part-time while they complete their education. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers 2010 Internship and Co-op Study, interns with B.A. degrees earn $17 an hour, and wages are affected by an intern’s major, year in college, and degree level. Seniors, for example, earn $18.40 an hour, on average, while freshmen earn $14.39.

Here are six pointers on starting an internship program.

Determine your needs. Start by identifying the projects you need assistance with. Do you want to spruce up your Web site? Do you need marketing materials for a new series? Whatever the project or projects, identify the costs and develop a budget for hiring an intern.

And don’t forget the intern’s needs. For instance, an intern who will be working in your office will need a workstation and may need tools such as design software.

Write a job description. Include duties, responsibilities, and expected outcomes. Keep in mind that internships can be as short as three months and will probably be no longer than nine months, since many internships are tied to course work during the academic year. The timeframe is important, of course, when you’re deciding what projects you want an intern to tackle.

According to the NACE, interns spend most of their time engaged in core business functions. On average, they spend less than 3 percent of their workday on nonessential functions such as filing and answering the phones. Participation in core business functions could include accompanying you on a sales call or attending a trade show with you. This sort of activity enhances interns’ experience and allows them to network with other industry professionals.

Identify desired characteristics. Define your ideal candidate, listing the characteristics that are important to you. For instance, must a candidate be currently enrolled in college full-time, or can the candidate be a recent graduate? Is the candidate’s GPA important? Do you prefer or require an intern with a specific major? What skill set or sets are you looking for?

Recruit. Contact nearby colleges for information about any internship programs they offer. Many programs run throughout the year, and program coordinators are a great resource. They can provide guidance on which programs are the most appropriate for your internship, on how to post notice of the internship, on pay scales, and on what they expect from you as an intern’s employer.

Also contact local high schools if you believe a high-school student could do the work you have in mind, since they may offer courses that require work experience.

Hire. Post the internship opportunity as directed by the schools you have chosen; conduct interviews as you would for any new hire, and be ready to provide information about the possibility of employment with your company after the internship is over (that question will inevitably come up).

Orient, supervise, and assess. Plan your intern’s first few days carefully, starting with a day of orientation. Then schedule regular progress meetings with the intern to ensure that both of you are on the same track and that expectations are being met. Some interns require more supervision than older employees, and interns need to be mentored, so be sure to appoint a mentor if you’re not going to be taking that role.

If an internship is tied to course credits, a coordinator from the intern’s school will probably want to visit your office to see the student at work.

As the end of the internship approaches, schedule an exit interview with the intern and send an overall evaluation of your experience to your contact at the intern’s school. Ideally, you will have found that working with the intern was worthwhile for your company and an excellent way to support your community.

Stephanie Stewart is the publisher of Fifth House Publishing, based in Markham, ON, Canada. To reach her, email stewart@fifthhousepublishers.ca.



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