5 tips for hiring interns: How to build a diverse and alternative workforce

Daniel Paylor
Published on 21st August 2018
3 min read

Internships. How can HR and People teams ensure that they’re successful for both the business and the candidate?

Employers are alive to the benefits interns bring, with 7% of employers saying that interns out-perform graduates, and 35% stating that interns perform better on the job. Additionally, 18% stated that former interns stay longer.

Yet the topic is a controversial one – even today, not all internships are always paid, hampering social mobility and diversity.

Here’s five ways organizations can ensure that internships are working for the company – and the intern.

1. Pay your interns a fair wage

This one’s vital. Unless you’re offering unpaid internships as work experience for a very short period, then make sure that your internships are paid. At the very least, the minimum wage should be paid.

Interns are mentees who will eventually make a positive impact in the workplace. They may end up returning to your company, so spending time with them now could be an active investment for the future.

On top of this, unpaid internships are open to a multitude of legal pitfalls. Legal cases against NBCUniversal, Conde Nast, the Hearst Corporation, and Fox Searchlight claiming that they violated labor laws by not paying their interns, show that employers need to stand up and take interns seriously. Paying them a wage is one way to do this.

2. Hire for enthusiasm

Interns are only temporary, but they will still have an impact on your team. An intern that’s unmotivated, unproductive, or unhelpful can undermine your team’s morale and efficiency. A great hire can have a huge impact, and even lead to becoming a full time employee.

Think beyond which college they go to and their academic qualifications. Look at their hobbies and extra curricular activities.

Many young people amass experience of their own before they even start an internship. This may be establishing societies, small businesses, working in not-for-profit organizations, setting up a school magazine, or volunteering in their local communities.

Also look at their personal traits – are they enthusiastic, keen, motivated and productive? Chances are that if they’ve done a whole load of extra curricular activities, they are.

3. Give them worthwhile jobs – and be realistic

Treat your interns like employees. They are part of the team and should be respected as such. This means planning out their responsibilities and work before they get there, giving them meaningful jobs, but also being realistic with your expectations.

You still need to support, mentor and check their work. Like any permanent employee, you should not burden them with undue pressure.

The bottom line is that if you wouldn’t give certain activities to permanent employees and expect them to put up with it, don’t do it to interns.

4. Make them part of the team and listen to them

Welcome your interns into the team. Organize a team lunch, introduce them to their colleagues and provide a mentor for them.

For the duration of their internship, they will be a team member like everyone else and should be treated as such. The more they learn, feel comfortable and enjoy the work environment, the better their output will be.

Also listen to them. They come with a wide variety of experiences, not necessarily work-related. If they are young, they are usually more digital savvy and they have different perspectives they can lend to the team.

5. Provide feedback

Once your interns are onboard, you should explain the culture of your company, how you work and what is expected of them.

This is also their chance to tell you what they expect to get out of the internship. Document all of this so that you can review it at the end of their time with you.

Make sure managers and mentors are providing regular feedback to them and at the end of their internship. Give them a proper performance management review to help them in their future careers whether it is with you or another business.

Are internships dead?

No, but unpaid ones should be. From the intern’s perspective, research shows that an unpaid internship doesn’t really make you more employable. Hiring rates for those who had done an unpaid internship (37%) were almost the same for those who had not completed any internship at all (35%).

Students who had done paid internships, on the other hand, were far more likely (63%) to secure employment and get paid more.

Even more importantly, unpaid internships deter young people who simply cannot afford to work for free to apply. Internships should not be regarded as a privilege but rather an opportunity for anyone who has talent, a hunger for work and the right attitude to get their foot in the door.

By providing paid internships, employers are tapping into a wealth of talent that was previously near impossible to access.

What’s really on the mind of your workforce? Find out by downloading our research from 3,500 employees on what really drives them in their career.

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