Companies that hire interns can reap big benefits — if they do it right. These benefits can come from generating a fresh hiring pipeline, discovering new talent, and saving money by not taking on salaried employees. But there are many more gains to be made than just these. The key is to have a comprehensive strategy that accounts for the potential hiring interns brings.
Creating an internship program is a lot like creating a brand new department. If you want to do it right there’s a lot more effort and research involved than simply hiring interns, training, and giving them work. To get the most out of interns, you need to be able to provide guidance and mentorship, which can be costly. So do the benefits ultimately outweigh the costs? We think so, and we’ve got the data to prove it.
Statistics On Hiring Interns
The hiring pool for interns is simply enormous. A whopping 75% of bachelors and masters degree students graduate with at least one internship. That represents nearly 16 million internships! With such a huge group hungry for work, you can find some serious talent just waiting to be discovered.
An internship program is also a proven pipeline for future employees. One study found that over 1/2 of all interns (51.3%) turn into proper hires, and are retained better than employees from other sources. After a year, almost 2/3 of employees who had internships with a business (65.5%) stay on. Even if they interned elsewhere, employees that participated in an internship have a 52% retention rate, higher than that of employees who have had no internships (46.2%). This means that if an employee interned with you, they have a 20% greater chance of staying with your company for more than a year than if they had never interned at all. The numbers prove that investing in interns can result in employees that stay loyal to your company.
Benefits Of Hiring Interns
Besides the high retention rate of interns, there are numerous reasons why they’re a great source of talent. Here’s a quick run-down of the many ways interns can benefit your company.
- Internships are a competitive way to source talent. A large portion of intern applicants are college students or recent graduates. You can count on this population of workers to be highly motivated to stand out and prove their worth, and you’ll get your pick of competitive young talent.
- Internships can be a great way to get your name out there. Many businesses build relationships with local colleges, or universities with degrees related to their work. And showing that you’re fostering growth in the next generation is excellent PR for your company.
- Interns introduce fresh ideas into your business. Maybe your marketing intern just learned a new design principle that helps you develop your ad campaign. Or perhaps a programming intern knows the latest tricks to cut down on code. Fresh perspectives and cutting-edge education can do a lot to liven up a workplace’s ideating.
- Interacting with interns helps develop your current talent. Giving your current employees opportunities to mentor and work with inexperienced employees can help them grow as leaders.
- Internships act as a trial period for hires. You often won’t know a person’s potential as an employee until they start working for you. Internships are a low-commitment way to vet potential employees and find workers who operate well with your company.
- Internships cut down on hiring costs. Since internships convert frequently into full time employees, by hiring interns, you can cut down on recruiting costs. By creating a direct internship to employment pipeline, you can slash the expenses involved in hiring, such as paying recruiters or posting jobs.
Interns, Pay, And You
Before you begin the process of hiring interns, make sure you have all of your legal bases covered. Research local and federal laws concerning the legal stipulations for hiring interns. This is particularly important if you want to hire unpaid interns. In general, there are two scenarios under which you may legally hire unpaid interns. The first is simple: nonprofits may hire volunteers. Volunteering is universally understood to be an unpaid position. However, if you are a for-profit company, your internship must meet certain criteria. As dictated by the Department of Labor, you must meet certain requirements that ensure the internship is an opportunity for growth, and not exploitation of free labor. Here are some of these criteria:
- There must be no expectation of compensation on either end.
- The experience must be similar to an educational environment, with “hands-on” experience.
- The internship offers educational credit.
- An intern’s education hours can be accomodated.
- The internship is limited to valuable experiences.
- The internship complements, not replaces, employee work.
- No job is promised at the end.
In other words, if you want to hire unpaid interns, you MUST ensure that they will have an educational experience. Otherwise, you should pay your interns. Local laws will differ on how much you should pay, and you will likely be expected to pay more for interns with specialized skills, like programming. The good news is, interns are inexpensive labor. Because they typically aren’t as qualified, they are rarely paid as much as true employees. And in many states, if you limit the internship’s duration or weekly hours, you aren’t required to provide benefits. So even if your interns aren’t unpaid, your company still gains value from the low-cost labor they provide.
Hiring Interns Effectively
So how do you go about actually hiring interns? The first step is to set up an internship program, and there are some important elements of this process consider.
- You’ll need staff dedicated to your internship program. You don’t have to hire a team for it, but you need to have at least one person who is primarily responsible for intern coordination and communication. Interns will feel lost and ineffective if they don’t have a dedicated employee to touch base with.
- Recognize who applies to internships. A lot of applicants are undergrads and recent graduates, so contact colleges and college job boards! But don’t be surprised if other types of applicants, like veterans or people switching careers, apply as well. Get to know who is trying to break into your industry.
- Cover letters will carry extra weight. Most applicants won’t have much experience. Cover letters will offer a much more comprehensive picture of an applicant’s personal investment. It’s more important that interns fit the culture than know everything already.
- Job interview questions for interns look very different. You aren’t looking for experience, or technical know-how. You want to ask about general problem solving, maybe some groundwork knowledge and whether they fit your company’s culture.
- Use internship-oriented websites. Many niche websites are designed to help interns get hired. Post your open internships to sites like www.internship.jobs to increase your applicant pool.
- Lay out the bare essential requirements and expectations. Don’t scare anyone away, but make sure they’re actually prepared for the position.
- Include clear details. What are the goals, duration, weekly hours, and training involved in this position? Let people know exactly what they’re in for.
- Introduce them to coworkers and the company during the hiring process. Give them an idea of how great working there would be!
Hiring interns is just the first step. To foster their growth and make the most of their work, there are a couple steps you should take.
- Ask friendly businesses about their internship practices. You’ll learn a lot and build relationships.
- Prepare your staff for interns. Give them expectations and guidelines.
- Assign each intern a direct supervisor. (Multiple interns can have the same supervisor!) Give them a guide and precise person to turn to.
- Provide training AND support. There should be proper job training for their duties, and resources to reference during the job.
- Keep communication lines open. Provide consistent feedback, and clarify expectations, deliverables, and goals.
- Bring interns into meetings. Show them how your communication works, and give them chances to contribute.
- Provide learning opportunities. Let them shadow other departments, or participate in unique projects or classes.
- Conduct an exit interview. Give final feedback and establish a line for future communication, especially if they’re a good fit. Even if they don’t take a job right now, be sure to stay in touch!
There’s a lot of preparation involved in getting your company ready to hire interns. But if you create the right support systems and structure, you can get a lot out of your internship program. Interns are a valuable source of future employees. Additionally, due to their competitive nature they often yield talented individuals. Don’t be afraid to invest in an internship program — it can have huge payoffs for your company!