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Why You Need to Select the Best Interns (and Treat Them Well, Too!)

September 10, 2013

Earning college credit and racking up work experience in their field of study is a must for the budding professional and the career-changer alike.  But if the mere thought of hiring an intern conjures up images of a coffee-brewing, copy-making gopher, then you are seriously underestimating and underutilizing these eager individuals. 128944318

Like any new hire, bringing an intern to your organization necessitates upfront costs—recruitment, onboarding, development, and wages (yes—I did say wages, but more about that later).  In addition, you also commit the valuable time and resources of current employees to facilitate the hiring process and perform supervisory duties.  But these expenses are likely to turn a profit, financially and intangibly, if you select a qualified, best-fit intern. Below are some benefits of hiring good interns:

  1. Short-term Financial Gains.  As a member of the team, interns perform valuable work for the organization that ultimately earns revenue through gaining or maintaining business.  Since you’re able to pay them less in terms of wages and benefits, interns aren’t as costly as bringing on new, full-time employees to shoulder additional work.
  2. Long-term Financial Savings.  Selecting qualified interns that fit with your organizational culture sets your business up for a longer-term relationship.  That initial month or two of training will certainly pay off if you invite your interns back for another summer (or semester)—as they become more self-sufficient, you can increase their workload and responsibility with less training time.  Who knows, they may even become your next permanent full-time hire.
  3. Leadership Microcosm.  Interns aren’t the only ones who can add new experience to their resume at the end of the summer.  Encouraging your staff to be mentors or supervisors allows them to get their feet wet in a leadership role.  And, while interns receive individual attention, current employees receive feedback on their managerial style.  How’s that for a win-win?
  4. Burnout Prevention.  Consider the monotonous or excessive tasks you can relieve overworked employees of with the additional help of an intern.  Take advantage of the initial “newness” an intern experiences and load them up with work activities others are bored to death of doing.  Current employees will love it, and interns won’t hate it (as long as they also have other opportunities to mix it up).
  5. A New M.O.  As the resident newbie, interns offer a fresh perspective and contribute new ideas, sometimes unintentionally.  Ever feel stuck in a rut?  Like you’re doing the same things in the same ways because that’s how you’ve always done it? Behold the bearer of change potential.  Whether out of curiosity or purposeful suggestions, interns fuel our ability to switch it up and try something different.
  6. PR Perks. Tweets, Instagram photos, and Facebook posts have brought “word of mouth” to a whole new level.  While your company may not go viral as a result, don’t underestimate the power of a fulfilled, engaged intern bragging about their awesome summer gig (#bestjobever) which means #freepositivepublicity for you.

These key reasons demonstrate many of the benefits to hiring interns, but only if you select qualified, best-fit individuals.   So, how can you do that?  During the selection process, treat interns like you would any other prospective employee:  consider their knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs), how they’ll fit with your organization’s culture, and how motivated they are to perform the tasks of the job.  This includes vetting interns through your typical entry-level hiring process.  Corroborating evidence from assessments and interviews helps you make a more informed hiring decision, and keeps your hiring process consistent (thus legally defensible).  Plus, capable, best-fit interns are more likely to exhibit consistent high performance and may become a permanent addition to your team.

As an intern-turned-professional myself, I can’t conclude without stressing the monumental importance of understanding that “you have to give a little to get a little”.  In practice, this means treating interns as valuable assets to the organization.  You can show value in a variety of ways, including worthwhile wages, team-building activities, or even intern appreciation day!  Additionally, the coaching and development opportunities you provide are crucial.  Keeping interns engaged will not only help them grow, but also builds accountability—so set the bar high!  If interns feel valued and important, they’ll jump to exceed everyone’s expectations.


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Bekah Regan Bekah Regan is a Consultant based in the Pittsburgh office of PSI. She provides client support across many different industries including retail, manufacturing, technology and healthcare. Her areas of expertise include developing selection tools and interview guides, providing training and support for PSI’s applicant tracking system, as well as assisting clients with requests and questions regarding tools and processes.