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Columbia Business Monthly

Get An Intern - But Do Your Homework First!

Oct 03, 2017 01:49PM ● By Emily Stevenson
By Dr. Carole Sox
Director for Hospitality and Tourism Management Program, Columbia College

Short staffed? Too much work to go around? Get an intern. Good idea, but not so fast! Now that students have returned to class for the fall, the big push for them to pursue internship opportunities has them reaching out to potential employers to help fulfill their degree program requirements. These internship opportunities, in most cases, have proven to be a win/win for the students and employers. According to a recent National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) study, the overall goal for most employers is to eventually offer a full-time position to an intern who excels throughout the internship. In fact, 72.2 percent of employers made offers to the interns they brought on board in 2016. The acceptance rate for those who were offered these positions was reported at 85.2 percent, which provides the highest conversion rate in 13 years!  

While this information sounds enticing, taking the time to create quality internship programs is key to providing the most advantageous benefits for both the company and the intern. Internships have been defined by NACE as “typically one-time work or service experiences related to the student’s major or career goal. The internship plan generally involves students working in professional settings under the supervision and monitoring of practicing professionals.” Some additional criteria have been put forth by NACE to ensure that these experiences are educational including (but not limited to) ensuring that the skills learned are applicable to employment settings; a definite beginning and end are stated and a job description is provided; learning objectives and goals are clearly defined and resources are provided to obtain those goals; supervision is provided by a person with expertise in the students’ field of interest; and routine feedback is provided to the intern.

Internships can be paid or unpaid. Interestingly, a 2015 NACE survey reported that students who participated in paid internship programs were more likely to receive job offers after graduation in addition to making higher salaries compared to those with unpaid internships. Regardless, if offering an unpaid internship, the Fair Labor Standards Act provides six criteria for legal consideration before an unpaid internship can be offered. The intern should be given training comparable to what would be received at an educational institution; the student should benefit from the internship; the intern should be closely supervised by an employee of the company; the employer is responsible for training the intern and gains no instant advantage from having the intern on board; the intern is given no guarantee of a job offer; and no wages are given to the intern.

Interns can prove to be a true asset to your company, but the internship program should be structured to promote success for both parties. If you are interested in starting an internship program at your company, reach out to the internship coordinator at an educational institution offering a degree program within your specific industry. Note the new degree programs starting at your local colleges/universities as well as the established programs, as internship partnerships will be eagerly received as the programs are launched. Call and meet with the internship coordinator in order to understand the requirements of their program in order for the student to receive credit. Prepare an outline of the internship you want to offer, including the tasks the student will be responsible for during the internship. Make the tasks beneficial to you and to the intern. Include a mission and goals, plus a timeline for feedback. Identify a supervisor for the position, indicating their area of expertise. Note beginning and ending dates and create a timeline for the hiring process, including an interview schedule. Making time to interview on campus is often helpful and most colleges/universities will provide a location for you to hold interviews if requested. Discuss a job posting for the internship and talk to the coordinator about how to best advertise the position to the students on and off campus.

Jen Hunsicker, director for the Center of Applied Learning at Columbia College, states, “When working with interns, make sure they are working on meaningful projects that will add value to their resume.” Hunsicker noted that what is particularly valuable is a project that they can talk about in their interview and include in their portfolio. Ensuring the manager has time to spend with the intern is imperative to the students’ success, and reviewing the goals versus the outcomes provides valuable feedback from this experience. “What is detrimental to this type of program,” stated Hunsicker, “is when a manager loses sight of the intern and assigns busy work that is not helpful or contributing to the learning experience.”

Internship programs can offer many benefits to your business. These programs offer a great way to identify future employees while actually observing how they work before making an offer. Internships offer an opportunity for your business to give back to the community, while providing benefits to students. While many companies are having difficulty identifying and retaining employees, internships offer an opportunity to gain talented individuals with a potential of making them full time employees. In any educational setting, education comes first, but it is necessary for employers to do their homework too in order to make these programs successful for all.