3 Ways To Make Your Internship Program Successful

Allow me to repeat one absolutely relevant and paramount truth applying to every facet of the corporate world: interns are not gophers! If you found a picture of an actual gopher in the encyclopedia, you might find that the gopher really doesn’t look like a secretary with a notepad and pen, waiting to take your notes. In a nutshell, we all are quite honestly looking at internships so wrongfully, that about 99% of the time, the internships are just plain not successful. At least not as successful as they could be.

The Theory Behind Internships

Internships are essentially recruiting pipelines. Think of them as an extended trial job interview period. They’re invaluable.

When it’s all said and done, you’re looking at some field-tested employees who know the ins and outs of the game and will be prepared for any change in the corporate weather. That’s a whole lot better than having to hire a bunch of employees on the spot after some 30-minute interviews and then watch the turnover rate skyrocket, leaving you high and dry to sweep up all the ashes.

However, it’s not always easy having an internship result into the ultimate goal: full-time recruitment. Because the fact is no intern is required to accept a full-time offer from you! Especially if that particular intern is quite the catch, that intern might be more interested in seeing what else is out there. There are, of course, obvious reasons for an intern to want to leave your company. You may not like them.

Thankfully, there are ways to try and retain your interns — the best interns, the ones that have proven themselves — and get them to join your company on a full-time basis. Three ways, actually.

Creativity Is Key

Without a doubt, a knack for thinking outside the box is a game changer in the corporate industry. So why not ensure you get the most creative interns? How? Creatively think of ways to get those interns interested in your company.

We see a trend here with this specific tip: it’s about, you guessed it, creativity.

It might sound a little juvenile, but it seemed to work out pretty well for a particular technology company, by the name of Evernote, posting a “Hackathon” internship to recruit some of Korea’s top students. What is a “Hackathon,” you say? Nothing more than a little competition between ‘hackers’ to see who could design the most interesting and most productively useful Evernote API applications. Doesn’t sound like much until you realize you get veritable geniuses, team players and problem solvers out of this competition.

Another company, an advertising firm, decided to get some crazy thinking going, utilizing a rather popular mobile app called “Draw Something.” Candidates were to use the app and draw. The drawings considered the most creative were then advanced forward in the selection process. This simple test could shed light on which interns happen to be the most practical and creative with their work ethic and process. Pretty valuable in my opinion.

Payment Is Paramount

Now I know at one point in time in our history, the idea of the “intern” was about getting free manpower and staffing at minimal to no cost (most likely no cost). And it was a good idea at the time, obviously. But let’s face it; no one wants to work for free, especially those with something valuable to offer. You’d be facing an intern who may want to just deal with the duration of the internship, get the experience and then high-tail it out of there. Sure, you received some free manpower: but what’s the point if they don’t stay on?

Furthermore, in today’s job market and legal industry, you’re likely to catch some serious flack running a free internship, as legally people who work most likely should get paid at least something. It’s all about employment law in general. Of course, when a person flocks to you for an unpaid internship, you’re looking at someone desperate, and without a doubt you believe there shouldn’t be any penalty on your table for offering it.

But that’s the thing about the law: it doesn’t care about what you ‘want,’ or what others ‘want,’ or what any intern ‘wants.’ All it cares about is fairness, justice and truth.

Do the same for your potential interns. Be fair, just and truthful.

They Are Your Employees

Yes, they are. Don’t shake your head. The word “intern” really is just a word! All other things being equal, if they’re doing work for you, if they’re showing up for you, if they’re at least reasonably dressed for you, one would surmise that they are in fact employees for you. So treat them as such.

The fact is interns want to feel like they’re actually part of the corporation. One of the major errors a company makes is to not properly educate their current full-time employees on how to treat the interns. They treat them like ‘gophers’ (see how we’ve come full circle here?). They run them ragged, slave them out and work them down.

Interns end up not feeling appreciated. They end up disliking the employers. When it comes time for you to offer a full-time position after they’ve proved themselves, do you think they’re going to want to get hired in? Probably not.

Make their jobs exciting. Give them real tasks. Don’t put them on coffee detail. They don’t need to shine your shoes. And they certainly don’t need to get you your lunch. If the goal is to develop a potential excellent full-timer, give them the tasks that will gear them toward that, not reduce them into little children helping mommy and daddy out.It’s kind of degrading.

Remember: They’re Working for You

We often make the major mistake that our interns aren’t really working for us and that they’re working for themselves. That’s not the case. They are working for us. They are interested in the possibility of working for us for a really long time. Remember that.

It’s definitely no excuse to get to a point where you can formally and legally say (which is crucial here, keeping your company on the right legal footing) that your intern has the opportunity for gainful full- or part-time employment. Draft an offer letter. Make it official. Craft a confidentiality agreement.

Think of it almost as a celebrated graduation. It does seem like such a cheesy little thing to give that official employee handbook, but I tell you the truth: it means the world to that intern. You, however, don’t need to play the whole Pomp and Circumstance thing. But prepare the intern for a fairly unlimited number of office parties and birthdays. Those are just the perks for being a celebrated new addition to the company workforce.

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Matt is the co-founder and CEO of UpCounsel, the fastest growing legal solution for businesses. You can follow him @UpCounsel for more business tips.