smb-tech-trendsWith school out or soon to be for most colleges and universities, there are many students looking for summer work as well as graduates who have yet to line up full-time employment.  Many companies are planning on hiring interns, if they haven’t already.  In fact, a survey released at the end of last year by indicated that mong 300 companies, 53 percent plan to hire more interns in 2013 than they did in 2012. Plantronics has an active internship program and participants share their experience on the company’s “A Fresh Look” blog.

It can be a win/win for your small business to establish an internship program if you don’t already have one. You gain extra and enthusiastic help while giving a student a great opportunity to get invaluable work experience to help land a full time job – maybe even at your small business.

Whether or not you pay your interns is something to consider. You may get more qualified candidates when your internship involves compensation; plus it sends the message that your small business values having an intern on board. However the biggest reason for paying interns is that the U.S. Department of Labor puts limits on the work un-paid interns can perform under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The Act stipulates that unpaid interns cannot do any work that contributes to a company’s operations, such as answering emails, filing, running a social media campaign, and so forth. On the other hand, unpaid interns can perform duties that don’t have a business need. Specifics of the law are available at: The Truth Behind Unpaid Internships.

internshipWhen it comes to managing your internship program to make it meaningful for a student and of the most value to your small business, keep the following in mind:

Establish a job description and set parameters: Any job requires a description and an internship in your small business is no exception.  Also make sure that your internship program includes the same guidelines that you set for your regular employees in terms of hours, use of mobile devices and apps, safe use of company information, and more. You  may have additional guidelines for interns. Whatever the policies, make sure to establish them from the start.

Assign meaningful work: Consider your intern part of the team. While that doesn’t preclude assigning mundane or tactical projects, find work that challenges interns and helps them to understand the nature of your business and how it operates. If that includes access to clients or customers, provide the proper training and let your customers know they will be working with one of your interns so you set the right expectations.

Provide training and mentoring: No matter how quick an intern is to pick up on things, you need to provide sufficient training and ongoing mentoring throughout the program. Interns are looking for guidance and feedback so they can learn properly and take that experience with them to an employer.  (I’ve found that you can often learn from your interns as well as they have a fresh perspective and are often very adept at technology and social media.)

Engage the entire staff: While one person may be responsible for managing your internship program, your entire small business team should be part of the effort. That means everyone needs to understand how to work with an intern, including training and mentoring.

Write an evaluation: At the end of the internship provide a written evaluation. It not only helps the student; if you hire an intern through a school program, most will require something in writing at the end of the program.  An evaluation also helps your small business determine what you might do to improve the program.  A reference from your company also is invaluable for an internship seeking employment.

Internships are a great service to students to help them prepare for their careers and can benefit your small business as well. They are a commitment, however. Make sure you have sufficient time to give to an internship program before establishing one.

Do you hire interns? What have you learned about making the experience meaningful for students and beneficial for your small business?