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Managing an Internship Program for Your Small Business

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By Barbara Beauregard   |    June 26, 2015   |    7:10 AM

Create an Internship Program That Benefits You and Your Interns

If your small business is growing and you need some extra hands, starting an internship program is an excellent way to get the help you need while providing a valuable work experience for a young workforce. If you want your internship program to stand out, gain a good reputation, and attract top talent, you need to learn more about managing an internship program.

Determine why your business needs interns

Before you begin recruiting, it’s important to have a solid understanding of why your small business could use the help of interns. An intern is looking for appropriate work experience that will help them further their careers, so keep that in mind when thinking about how an intern can fit into your business. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What work do you need an intern’s help with?
  • Who will supervise the company’s interns? Can you handle this task, or is there another member of your team who would make a great delegator and mentor?
  • Do you have the capacity to train interns well?
  • What sort of projects would you have liked to work on early in your career? Can your company give it’s interns an opportunity to work on those types of projects?
  • Do you have the necessary resources for hiring an intern, like office space and equipment?
  • Can you afford to pay your interns? If you can’t, what else can you offer them in return for their hard work? While most students state that compensation is the least of their concerns, that doesn’t mean they aren’t expecting anything—give them a valuable experience, whether they are paid or unpaid.

If you want to manage a successful internship program for your small business, don’t gloss over asking yourself these questions.

The legal side of unpaid internships

It’s also important to remember that the U.S. Department of Labor has created a number of guidelines for unpaid internships, and you must meet all of their criteria if interns are going to be unpaid. Review the law before making any hiring decisions.

Recruiting interns for your business

Hiring interns takes time, just like it does with full-time employees. When writing out your job description provide clear examples of the work that the interns will be doing, the time commitment needed, and any objectives and goals that you’d like to be met.

Post your internship offering on job listing sites and your local Craigslist website. If your business operates near a college or university it’s worth checking out whether they have internship programs. Most schools have an internship program through their career services department, and registering with them can grant you access to a pool of talented and hardworking students. If the school offers participating students course credit for their internships, that’s one other way to make an unpaid internship pay off for the intern.

Managing your business’s interns on a daily basis

There’s no way around it—young, inexperienced workers often need a large amount of guidance and mentorship. It’s important to be ready for this important task, whether you or another staff member will be managing the company’s interns. Be prepared to start from the beginning with subjects like the office dress code, their expected schedule, how long lunch breaks are, and other seemingly minor details.

When assigning tasks be sure to give your interns interesting projects that will teach them something valuable… at least most of the time. “Boring” work is a part of life, and don’t be afraid to give them mundane tasks, either. These tasks are still important and can teach valuable skills, even if they’re tedious.

The importance of giving interns feedback

Finally, give your interns consistent feedback. Students are accustomed to being graded on everything. It’s a huge part of how they learn what they did right and what could use some work. You can hold weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly meetings to talk about progress, go over goals, and to give and receive feedback.

If you really want to make your small business’s interns happy, have these feedback meetings over lunch or coffee… paid for by the company, of course.
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