Almost 70% of college students plan to pursue an internship while in school, a smart move considering that recent figures show that 90% of direct-from-college jobs will go to students who've had internship experience.
And while an internship program might be appealing to a startup as a way to recruit a cheap but enthusiastic labor force, Babbit and Bottner argue that there are both practical and legal guidelines to consider when creating an internship position.
1. Create a Work Plan for the Intern
Although interns do expect to do a certain amount of menial work, Babbitt argues that Gen-Y is predisposed to creative projects and as such, interns want to contribute, not simply make coffee. Students choose internships because they want experiential education, and so it's important to devise a work plan for an intern ahead of time, with clear tasks and expectations.
2. Find a Good Supervisor
Bottner notes that just because someone is a good supervisor of employees doesn't mean they are necessarily the right person to supervise interns. Choose a supervisor who is readily accessible and who can provide appropriate guidance and feedback to an interne. As internships are often short in duration, be sure to provide an orientation so that the intern can learn the ropes quickly.
3. Give and Take Feedback
Although startups tend not to have large (if any) HR departments, it's still important that interns still receive feedback, not just at the end of their stint but on an ongoing basis. Interns bring not only youthful enthusiasm to a startup. They can often have unique insights, broadening the knowledgebase and skill set of a startup's staff. Make sure to listen to how your intern can help your startup, not simply how the opportunity can help the intern.
4. Reach Out to Colleges and Universities
Developing a relationship with colleges and universities will help make sure you recruit well-qualified interns. Professors and career center staff play a key role in helping students determine where they should apply for internships. This doesn't mean necessarily that you must be present at career fairs, however, as (no surprise) social media is changing the ways in which students network and look for work.
5. Provide Compensation
A New York Times article in April brought to wider attention some of the labor violations surrounding unpaid internships. There are six criteria, according to the Department of Labor, for whether or not the internship you offer requires compensation. Among these are that the internship should be similar to vocational or academic training, that the intern should not displace regular paid workers, and that the employer "derives no immediate advantage" from the intern's work. In other words, the internship should primarily benefit the intern, not the employer. As Bottner notes, these criteria mean that most internships do, in fact, require some sort of financial compensation, in addition to just rewarding college credit. It's the law, says Bottner, and "it's the right thing to do."
A successful internship program should be a win for everyone involved: a win for the student, a win for the college, and a win for your startup. A bad internship experience, on the other hand, can quickly go viral, becoming a PR or even a legal disaster.
Both Bottner and Babbit argue that it's worth taking the time to develop a strong internship program for your startup, to "test drive" potential employees, to increase your business's expertise and productivity, and to create an outreach to higher ed to help with effective workforce development.