Management Edge logo Preparation is key to hiring a good intern

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Hiring interns is a great way to obtain fresh talent with up-to-date skills for lower costs. Interns serve the added benefit of providing a staff person who can complete limited-scope projects that often get shelved as a result of employee overload.

A short-term, well-educated and highly motivated intern may be just the person to accomplish an important project and add fresh perspective. The key to a successful experience for both employer and intern is preparation. Advance planning for interns is just as important an element of your staffing plan as hiring permanent employees. If you've never used interns, how do you get started?

Begin by talking to counterparts in your field at other organizations to learn how their programs are structured. Obtain internship recruiting literature from companies with well-established programs. Consult with your area university placement offices to discuss how to structure meaningful internship experiences and how to market, hire and evaluate those programs. They will let you know whether your program is eligible for college credit.

Designing your program

Supervisors are often unprepared for interns. They may get a person in the door and ask, "Now what?" They won't have to wonder what to do with the extra set of hands if they spend time preparing for this position before an intern ever enters the office.

You wouldn't hire a new employee without first establishing the criteria for that position. And so you also must create a job description that adequately outlines duties and projects associated with the internship.

Map out the length and timing of the internship experience, working hours, criteria for selecting applicants and compensation.

Select a direct supervisor for each intern. This person should be responsible for assigning projects, providing any on-the-job training, answering questions and offering regular performance reviews.

Whenever possible, delegate beginning-to-end projects so that interns get the experience of seeing a project through from start to finish. Let them work as a member of the team so that they learn how different departments interact within organizations.

The whole point in offering an internship is to make the experience meaningful for both you and the intern.

"We want our interns to find their experience educational and enlightening," says Melissa Meriwether, recruiting and retention manager at the Leading Edge accounting firm Pannell Kerr Forster of Texas P.C. (PKF Texas). "Our interns are given the same level of work as our incoming staff-level hires, which involves everything from copying and filing to working with our directors and chief financial officers of smaller companies on accounting issues."

Interns join PKF Texas and many accounting firms throughout the country during the "busy season"—February through April.

Bringing them in during tax season accomplishes several objectives: "Interns become immersed in our firm's culture at the time of year when they can see what our working environment is really like and determine if this career is for them. The firm is able to reduce workload of permanent employees with the extra help. We are also able to assess the basic work ethic of the intern to determine whether or not to offer them a full-time position upon graduation," she says.

The task of screening applicants, working with college campus placement officers and administering the on-site activities of interns can become fairly time-consuming. It's best to appoint someone to head recruitment and management of interns.

This person can also coordinate logistics prior to the intern's arrival. This includes arranging for a workspace (phone, computer, e-mail account, etc.) and mailbox, payroll forms, security clearance and parking permits.

Training and support should be provided through an orientation program. Give them an office tour, introduce them to staff, share the corporate philosophy and review dress code, hours and other office policies. The more the intern feels welcome, and part of the team, the better the experience will be. Although it is not the employer's responsibility to provide housing for interns, it's a good idea to serve as an information resource for the student prior to their relocation.

Establish performance criteria and offer regular feedback, clarifying employer expectations of what constitutes quality performance on the job. It's helpful to solicit feedback about their experience by conducting exit interviews. Ask for suggestions they may have for improving the program. Remember that you're building an image among universities and the future workforce. Make sure it's a positive one.


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