Making your internship program work

There’s a reason internships are so popular—structured properly, an internship provides awesome benefits to the intern and the employer. Interns get real-world work experience, a chance to learn marketable skills, and exposure to pros in their field of interest who may be able to provide valuable introductions well beyond the internship end date.

Employers get fresh eyes on their organizational processes, a chance to begin shaping the future workforce, and leadership and management opportunities for their staff, including some who may be looking for a new challenge that only mentoring someone else can offer.

Unfortunately, however, there are many ways for your internship to end up being a huge waste of everyone’s time (as well as a legal headache).

Here’s how to avoid all that.

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Paid or unpaid? Get it right

The Department of Labor guidelines make it pretty clear that an internship needs to be all about the intern if it’s to be unpaid. So, if an employer brings interns on board with the idea of augmenting his staff for free he’s in a danger zone (and it’s also a bit exploitative in my view, but what do I know)? Keep in mind that a paid internship offers greater flexibility regarding job duties and tasks, too.

Don’t overlook the basics

Workspace? Check. Computer with internet access? Check. Email account and permission to view shared drives? Check. None of us can work effectively without these things—not even a temporary intern.

Be welcoming

On the first day of work, plan to take your intern to lunch and introduce him to the key people with whom he’ll be working. It’ll make him feel like part of the team.

Make it real

It takes a little thought, but you’ll be more satisfied with your intern (and she with you) if you delegate meaningful work that’ll teach the intern something valuable. While just about every position nowadays has an administrative component (where oh where have all the assistants gone??), giving the intern nothing but grunt work and low-level manual labor (like making coffee or cleaning out the supply cabinet) won’t cut it.

Plan and then plan some more

It’s not a good idea to bring an intern on board while having absolutely no idea what this person is going to do all day long. You don’t want to be a babysitter, and he doesn’t want to be babysat, so spend a little time planning what tasks you can assign him. And, expect to explain some things, get interrupted, and overall have your productivity affected somewhat. After all, the intern can’t learn if you aren’t willing to teach.

Be accessible

Your intern doesn’t want you hovering over her while she works, but it’s good to be available. Some of the best work lessons I learned as a young adult were related to the politics of working in an office—not the official tasks—and I only learned those because a wise adult (or two) was willing to talk to me about How the Real World Works 101. Do the same for your intern. He’ll thank you forever.

Interns bring energy, a fresh perspective, and enthusiasm to your workplace. So while at times having to oversee the work of an intern can feel like an inconvenience, hosting an intern is an excellent way to do something positive for your community and your organization, and you may be surprised at how much it benefits you, too.

Learn more about classifying interns and all types of employees in this educational PayScale whitepaper: Employee Classification Primer



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