In my experience, the business world has topics that people tend to polarize on, and interns would be high on that list. When the subject arises, you get some strong opinions that boil down to “love them” or “hate them.” Those of us who see value in the effort can wax poetic about the benefits to the community, the company and the associates. Those who oppose have a litany of reasons why the time-suck far outweighs the benefits to the company.
If you’re undecided (and maybe even if you’re a naysayer), I’d like a few minutes of your time to try to convince you about the value of an intern program. I truly believe when done well they enrich your company culture and provide an opportunity to develop future direct-hire candidates.
3 Key Elements Of A Successful Intern Program
A Mutually Beneficial Structure
There are a vast number of ways you can structure an internship, and different plans will be more effective for different organizations. There are a few key elements you need to consider when crafting your opportunity. First and foremost, the setup needs to be mutually beneficial, and the person managing the intern needs to have that firmly in the forefront of their mind while planning.
If you see an internship as an opportunity to get cheap labor for the most boring grunt work imaginable, you have already missed the boat and that would be it sailing off into the distance. Don’t expect to get good work out of a young adult who sees no personal value in what they’ve been asked to do.
An Intern Manager With A Mentor Mentality
The second critical element is a manager who enjoys mentoring. If your staff consists of managers with supervisor mentalities, you don’t have someone who can run a successful internship program. A good manager will be able to align value-add activities that benefit the department, fit an inexperienced intern’s abilities and provide them a learning experience that gives them good bullet points to add to their professional resume.
In an ideal situation, you will have an emerging manager who can function as the intern’s mentor under the guidance of the more seasoned manager. It gives you the boon of being able to develop the emerging manager’s skills without the commitment of granting them a permanent direct report. Plus, I think you’ll find that they are excited about the opportunity and work diligently to form a good rapport with the intern to ensure they are both successful.
Process-Oriented Tasks With Tangible Results
The final critical element is the composition of the tasks you are going to assign the intern. They need to be structured, process-oriented and have tangible results. It’s OK for the task to require research by the intern if you spend some time showing them how to find the resources that will hold the answers. It is not going to work well if you ask them to make judgments, assumptions or decisions. An intern is inexperienced. Those activities will likely make them uncomfortable and unsure about how to proceed.
Activities that have worked best in our organization include balance sheet reconciliations, recurring monthly journal entries, rolling forward cash forecasting models, setting up budget workbooks and performing basic bank reconciliations. The tangible finished product from those activities gives them something they can feel good about completing, and your staff, who didn’t have to spend time doing those activities, will find a whole new appreciation for having an intern.
Deepening Your Talent Pool
There are benefits that your company may appreciate in addition to the work output. One of the largest in the current employment market is the positive impact on your candidate pool. Competition for accounting talent is intense, and it’s always a gamble hiring entry level with minimal experience because there’s no history to tell you what type of worker you are getting. An active intern program gives you the opportunity to assess the potential of a candidate and their fit in your organization.
A good experience can result in your intern returning to college and giving you a great review as an awesome place to work to fellow students encouraging additional interest by top candidates in any opportunities your organization offers. It can open the door for building a relationship with one or more of the business school professors. Those people are teaching because they believe in developing young talent. If you show that you are of the same mindset, a symbiotic relationship can develop that gives you an advantage in acquiring top emerging talent.
In today’s labor market, the savvy hiring manager is taking whatever opportunity they can to improve their position. This should be one you are considering.
It’s Worth The Effort
Our most popular intern program consists of 12-14 weeks over the summer, with three eight-hour days (Tuesday through Thursday) weekly and a reasonable hourly wage. By limiting your intern to three days per week, you allow your staff to have two days without an intern in the mix, and the intern can decide whether to have another more traditional part-time, summer job or use the long weekends to vacation.
We provide a rough outline of the summer’s planned workload before their arrival and a detailed agenda for the first three days that lines up HR onboarding, IT setup and basic training in key areas. There is a welcome-aboard luncheon with the team to introduce everyone and a goodbye luncheon the day before they leave.
At the end of the program, the CFO conducts a 30-minute exit interview to gather insights on the program and provide closure for the intern.
The entire process requires limited effort on multiple people’s part and, in our experience, gets fantastic results.
You really should consider giving it a trial run one summer and seeing if it works for you. It’s a minimal investment that can pay wonderful dividends.
Originally posted on Forbes.com.