The Internship Done Right

Done right, an internship program can be a positive experience for the student and for your company.

An internship, done right, will serve to prepare the student for their first job.  It will teach them about responsibility, accountability, and about the industry.   Done right, an internship program should bring value to your company as well. Done right, the program will foster new talent, bring in new ideas, and serve as a channel for bringing well-prepared talent to you team.

Here’s how to do it right:

Sit down with the intern on the first day and establish a game plan. Ask the student what they hope to gain from the experience.  Ask them what their career aspirations are.  As the conversation continues and you lay out the tasks and responsibilities for which the intern will be responsible, point to how these tasks and responsibilities will serve to help them on their stated career path.

I mentioned, giving the intern tasks and responsibilities.  These should be real tasks and responsibilities.  The internship is an opportunity for the student to gain skills, and to learn how a company works, and how to navigate the workplace.  Asking the intern to make coffee, copy papers, or pick up your dry cleaning will not benefit the student or the company (if you choose to hire them after the internship) in the long run.

To this end, it is important that you hold the intern accountable.  They should show up on time, meet deadlines, and they should dress in an appropriate manner for your office.  If this is not happening, a conversation is necessary.  Overlooking these issues is at cross purposes with a valuable internship.

Also essential – providing the intern with the tools they need to succeed and acting as a mentor throughout the internship program.  Answer questions.  Set up regular check-ins.  Introduce the intern to others in the office.

One more thing to consider when doing an internship right – the laws which govern internships.

In June a federal district judge in Manhattan ruled that Fox Searchlight Studios had broken New York and federal minimum wage laws by failing to pay two interns who had worked on the set of the film “Black Swan.”  Given that there are more than one million unpaid internships in the US each year, this ruling has opened doors for additional lawsuits and has companies taking a close look at their internship programs to determine if they are in fact legal.  For clarification, companies are turning to the Department of Labor.  The Department of Labor lists six criteria which an internship must meet in order for the internship to be an unpaid internship.  In a 2010 New York Times article, Nancy J. Leppink, then acting director of the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, is quoted: “If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law.”

Interestingly, Intern Bridge’s 2012 Internship Salary Survey found that 51.3% of students surveyed had internships that were unpaid and that the number of paid internships declined by 3.6% from the previous year.

Another interesting piece of information – a 2013 survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that paid interns were more likely to get at least one job offer and obtain a higher starting salary than students who had had an unpaid internship or no internship.  Specifically, 63.1% of paid interns reported that they had received at least one job offer compared with 37% of students who had participated in an unpaid internship and 35.2% of students who hadn’t participated in an internship.  With respect to salary, students who had participated in a paid internship reported a median starting salary of $51,930 as compared to $35,721 for unpaid interns and $37,087 for students who did not participate in an internship.