Woman and man in front of a computerHiring interns has been on the rise this year with research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers suggesting that intern hiring would be up by 8.5 percent this summer. And with the intern summer season now having drawn to a close, employers can use this quiet interlude to begin developing and adapting their intern program to take advantage of the cream of student/graduate talent in 2013.

So, what have we learned from internship programs in 2012 that businesses can take forward into their 2013 internship planning? One of the clear take aways is the fact that pretty much all businesses paid their interns this year, which reflects the increasing importance of these internship programs. Employers are using them to feed into their full-time hiring program and they want to make sure that they have the best possible talent.

This is a very sensible strategy for businesses to adopt as the NACE 2011 Student Survey revealed that 90 percent of students who took part in internships said that they would accept an offer of full-time employment from their internship employer. And if you are a small business looking to build on your current intern program or looking to set one up for the first time, read on for my four key tips on how to develop an effective intern program.

1.The intern project should address a clear business need or issue.

Don’t just sleep walk into your intern assignment. Don’t start planning the interns’ work on the day they arrive because, if you adopt this approach, you may not get your return on your investment of time and money in the intern.

Rather, look around for various problems, issues and inefficiencies that you may have in the business. Maybe one of your office systems is paper-based and needs to be computerized, saving you time and money – yet you have no available resources to do it.

This could be a great project for an IT intern as they get to practice their IT skills and you get a new and improved automated business process, which pleases your staff  and motivates them to support the intern.

2. Ensure you have the resources to manage the intern.

Interns need to be managed. Make sure that you have the resources and that they have the time, desire and ability to coach and support your intern (s) effectively. Ask questions like:

  • Who will manage and mentor the intern(s)?
  • Can you provide ongoing training to help the intern’s general development?
  • Do you have the space and other necessary resources to handle an intern?

3. Recruitment

Hiring interns should not be seen as a quick and easy way to bypass the normal disciplined recruitment process. It is recruitment, just like for any other role, and you should adopt similar processes. At the minimum this would involve developing a job description that includes a detail of the assignment, projects and objectives for the internship period. This should also include details of who will be supervising the intern, the length of assignment and the financial and development benefits that the intern will get from the program.

In terms of advertising for internships, post your intern vacancies on sites like internships.com, aftercollege.com or you can go directly to schools and colleges, ideally in your local area or state.

4. Paying interns

While it is not illegal to hire unpaid interns in the US, if you do hire unpaid interns you must follow seven very strict rules, the most important of which is that you can derive no immediate advantage from the work the intern does. Ultimately, if you take on an unpaid intern, you will not be able to legally generate any return on investment from them as described above.

The truth is that the best interns will want to be paid – and will have plenty of paying internships options open to them – so, if you can afford it, you should pay your interns to ensure you get access to top talent. As of the summer, the average hourly rate for paid bachelor degree level interns was  $16.21 per hour.

Good luck with your intern program for the remainder of 2013.



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