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How to Choose an Intern for Your Small Business

May 18th, 2012

At its best, an internship agreement offers huge benefits for both your small business and the intern you hire. If you’re a local company or a start-up firm in need of some extra hands, there are plenty of young workers out there who know they need some real world experience if they hope to land a stable position after they graduate. At this point, they may not have a deep background in the field or any specific skills, but they’re eager to learn, they want to make a good impression, and they’re willing to accept lower compensation in return for some practical immersion in a workplace setting.

The intern relationship can be win-win for everyone. But only if you handle this delicate arrangement properly. If you approach internships with the wrong expectations, you might end up with headaches, or worse.

Selecting the Best Interns

If you’ve decided an intern is right for you, contact local schools and colleges and see what programs they have available that can connect students with employers. Let the school help with the screening process, but make sure you complete your own due diligence as well. Review resumes carefully and conduct thoughtful interviews just as you would with a full time applicant. (Do NOT ask for passwords or social media profile access). During the interview stage, it’s okay to be a little gruff with potential interns or overstate the challenges of the position, almost to the point of driving them away, since this can test their level of determination without causing any harm.

Your Internship: Paid or Unpaid?

To avoid any potential risk of misunderstandings, and to protect your reputation and yourself, both legally and ethically, pay your interns. You don’t have to break your hiring budget, but even a small stipend sends the message that you value your employees and you take your business seriously.

If you can’t afford even a stipend or minimum wage, make this clear upfront, and recognize that you may have difficulty retaining interns who are drawn away by other offers or more pressing responsibilities. On both sides of the relationship, payment adds dignity and a sense of obligation, and it can lend weight to your instructions and expectations.

The Care and Feeding of Interns

Be very clear about what you expect your intern to do. If you overtask him or her, be prepared to clean up a mess later, which can be costly and time consuming. At the same time, taking a calculated risk and challenging an intern can have a huge payoff if she succeeds and gains confidence.

Above all, remember that interns are young and have limited experience with the working world. So it’s up to you to keep every aspect of the relationship healthy and positive.  Don’t expect your intern to call the shots or recognize when something is off base. And no matter how enthusiastic and obedient he may seem, be careful not to take advantage of this and become exploitative.  Just because you have eager interns lining up at the door doesn’t mean you have free rein to become disrespectful, hyper-critical or overly demanding. Take responsibility for the intern’s destiny as well as your own, and make sure she’s getting what she needs from the experience, just as you are.

For more help finding interns, keeping them, and making the most of an internship agreement, contact a recruiting company in Fairfield County at Merritt Staffing and arrange a consultation.

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