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The No. 1 Tip for Hiring a Successful Summer Intern

Good old-fashioned planning, while not exciting, is the single best way to ensure your company and your young professionals-in-training get the most of a summer internship.

So, what do you need to plan? Everything.

You know how you think through your business needs, costs and desired results when hiring any new position in the company? That’s the same planning and strategy that needs to go into offering summer internships, whether your company hires one intern or establishes a companywide program.

Your goal is to provide young professionals with meaningful work so you can assess their work ethic, intellect and potential as long-term employees.

Internship strategic thinking

Basic questions to consider when planning a summer internship program:

  • How long will interns work? Four, six or eight weeks?
  • What will they work on?
  • Who will supervise the work?
  • Is there an open desk, computer, telephone, company email account and parking for them?
  • Will this be a paid internship?
  • How will you recruit quality interns?

Once you’ve covered the initial planning, it’s time to dive deeper.

The projects

Yes, every company has unfinished or undermanned projects in need of additional support. But will your project be something that provides a meaningful experience to budding business professionals?

In this analysis, it may be helpful to think of an internship as a six- or eight-week job interview. Consider projects that will not only help the business, but will help the intern gain valuable experience unavailable in the classroom.

If all you really need is clerical support, hire a temp, not a college intern.

One example of substantial work might be for a marketing department to ask an intern to create a fall editorial calendar then write blog posts and social media messages to fill that calendar. The intern should be required to present ideas to the team to learn the back-and-forth of brainstorming.

The search

It will be hard to find a good fit for either the intern or your company if there’s not an outline of the work that needs to be done. So prepare a written job description that defines the projects planned, the duration of the projects, the pay and the internship objectives.

The job description can be circulated within your company, to colleges and universities, to individual professors and local employment offices. Don’t forget to post the opening on your company’s website, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.

The supervisor

Do your managers have time to adequately supervise interns? In the case of the marketing intern, someone will need to oversee the intern’s work throughout the summer. At a minimum, this supervisor will coach the intern through the process of how to prepare for interviews with company executives, teach him or her how to use the company’s content management system and guide him or her through the editorial process. The young person should also be invited to attend departmental and company meetings, sales calls and vendor presentations.

Your goal should be to give interns an idea of how a department supports other departments and overall business objectives. In addition, supervisors should meet weekly with interns to discuss their progress and answer questions.

It could also be valuable for your interns to work with two to three supervisors on different aspects of their project to experience different work styles. It’s a big time commitment, so be sure your managers are dedicated to a successful internship.

The pay

Pay for interns can be complicated. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act requires that a company receive no monetary benefit from unpaid work. Unpaid workers cannot replace paid employees and may be eligible for workers’ compensation. There are some exceptions, such as if interns earn college credit for their work at your company.

The safer solution is to pay your interns. It gives you the flexibility to have them work on any project as needed.

The legal issues around unpaid work can be complicated, so consult your human resources department if you genuinely have no room in the budget for a small salary.

The welcome

Once you’ve decided to hire interns, plan their onboarding process as well as their work space requirements. Each intern will need a desk, computer, a telephone and a company email account, at a minimum. You may also need to arrange for parking, building access and other logistics of working in your building.

Some companies offer a full- or partial-day onboarding process, while others are more informal. Regardless, on the first day you need to set expectations for your company’s culture, work environment, dress, lunch times and other policies.

With adequate planning and a dash of enthusiasm, you could be well on your way to finding your company’s next superstar salesperson, IT guru or accounting dynamo.

Is your company struggling to find the best job candidates? Your recruiting process could be to blame. To find out, get your free e-book, Obstacles to Hiring: How to Overcome Nine Common Challenges.