They’re Not Just for Coffee Runs: Getting the Most Out of Your Interns

Your business and your intern meet in a symbiotic relationship.

They need you for experience, and you need them (most likely) for cheap labor. However, interns possess an untapped source of knowledge that your company should take advantage of and put to use. 

As a senior in college, I cannot explain how often we are drilled on this concept. If I had a dollar for every time I was told I needed an internship, I could pay for my college tuition. And if I had a dollar for every internship I’ve possessed, I would have $3.

An internship is no longer enough to seal your fate with a job offer upon graduation day. This is due to a market saturated with college graduates and scarce entry-level positions. Or my personal favorite, entry-level positions with 3-5 years experience required.

With the beginning of a new school year upon us, so is the looming reality of graduation and the influx of internship applications. Before you hire your next intern, there are steps you can take to get the most out of the role for both parties. Going straight to the source, I asked a few interns what they found to be the most useful at their internship, and have included them below.

Whether you are considering starting a program or already have on in place, here are practices you can utilize in your office to make sure both you and your intern are happy and productive.

Related Article: How to Lose a Millennial in 10 Days

Before You Hire

Put your potential interns to the test. Literally, test them.

Along with the interview process, give them a task that relates to the job they will be doing. This will give you an adequate depiction of your intern’s skills. In addition, testing interns beyond the interview process will weed out less motivated applicants, and you will be left with those willing to go the extra mile get the position. This is a great indicator of their drive.

Pro Tip: Once you have chosen the winning candidate, reach out to them to share your excitement about them joining the team. This will start your relationship off on a positive note.  Society for Human Resource Management found that 72% of employees consider respect to be the biggest factor in job satisfaction, and with low pay and status at the office, it is important to keep you intern in high morale.

Creating a Schedule That Works 

Remember that your intern is also a student, which is their first priority, so the school year will be the biggest obstacle in scheduling. A typical internship is between three to four months, with room for extension based on performance and company needs.

  • Summer: Between mid-May and August it is common to hire full-time positions, 20-40 hours a week
  • School Year: From September to May it is common to hire part-time positions, 10-20 hours a week

Pro Tip: Create a consistent schedule with your intern so they know exactly when they are working. This will save you the hassle of creating a new schedule every few weeks and allow your intern to plan ahead for both work and school deadlines.

Taking off the Training Wheels

Plan ahead and know what duties you want your intern to work on before they start.

Interns could potentially be your next full-time hire, so take advantage of this by providing them with the proper training for their position. Be clear on exactly what their duties entail and clarify any questions they might have.

“Companies can get the most out of their interns by challenging their creativity and logic skills at the same time in an open setting. Keyword is challenging.” – Paul Johnson, Intern at Kraft Foods

Furthermore, ask what they want to get out of the internship. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how many students are aware of the skills they want to gain from the experience. Use this motivation as an asset to your company to complete any related tasks on your never-ending to-do list.

Pro Tip: Provide the intern with a mentor. The mentor should be someone that shows them around the office and is available for questions, positive feedback and constructive criticism.

Everything is a Learning Experience

Provide them with feedback; your intern needs to know what they need to improve on and more importantly, what they’re doing well. By including what you do like, your intern will be excited to duplicate that response. Employees are 30 times more likely to be actively engaged at work when managers focus on the employees’ strengths.

“Get their input on some of the bigger projects the company is doing to make them feel like they have a purpose.” – Kelsey Sellars, Intern at Hilton Harbor Island

Pro Tip: Ask your intern’s opinion about projects the company is working on. Feedback works both ways; interns provide a new insight that could have been previously overlooked, or not considered.

What Should I Assign?

Interns aren’t just for coffee runs. Although most interns are temporary, they can provide your business with unprecedented value when you assign them the right task. If you are struggling to create meaningful projects for them, here are some great starting points recommended by Forbes.

  • Social Media Strategy
  • PC and Mobile Device Deployment
  • Compiling Data
  • Beta Testing
  • Shadowing Other Professionals

“I liked when the company explained the purpose behind my task. Instead of just being told what to do,  they told me why I was doing it and how it fit into the bigger picture.” – Jacob Jiron, Digital Marketing Intern at Riverine, Inc.

Pro Tip: Assign your intern one long-term project in addition to their day-to-day assignments, something useful but not detrimental to your company if they make a mistake. This will keep them occupied during any downtime.

Related Article: Attracting and Engaging Millennial Interns

Proper Compensation

Last but not least, pay your interns. A paid internship can receive four to five times as many applicants than an unpaid one.

In order for an unpaid internship to be legal, there is a six-part test that it must pass. One of the regulations states that “the employer providing the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.” 

By hiring an unpaid intern, your business legally cannot assign them any task that immediately benefits your business and on occasion, even prevents your business from being fully operational. Paid interns benefit the company by being able to work on productive tasks, and in turn, gain the experience they need to eventually get a full-time role.

Sixty percent of paid internships turn into jobs, compared to only 37 percent of unpaid ones, and that’s a symbiotic relationship you want to be a part of.

Pro Tip: Increasing the pay of your intern will increase the quality of the applicants you receive. Nathan Parcells the VP of Marketing for Looksharp created the table below, it is a powerful tool that businesses can utilize to understand what salary will keep their business competitive on the internship market.



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