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An increasing number of small businesses are hiring college students as both paid and unpaid interns according to research from National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE)—and with good reason. Internships serve as one of the most effective tools available to companies to get some extra help around the office, vet potential future talent, and provide critical training during the internship period.

Internships also enhance productivity, improve employee retention rates, and lower recruitment costs. The clear benefits to business of internships are borne out by the fact that on average, 35.3% of new business hires come from internship programs.

A Win-Win Situation

Internships are also highly beneficial to the students who participate in them. It allows them to test drive a position, refine their career choices, and in many cases, obtain their first job.

Further research from NACE indicates that more than 2 in 3 interns were offered a full-time position directly related to their internship, and 83.6% of those positions were accepted. Given the mutual benefits of internship programs for both businesses and students, the question is not “Should we initiate an internship program?” but rather, “What’s the best way to do it?”

Internship Best Practices

Some internship programs are more successful than others. Those which achieve optimal results follow best practices, some of which are outlined by Caron Beesley for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Beesley is a small business owner, writer, and marketing communications consultant who advises SBA on ways to promote essential government resources that help small business owners and entrepreneurs succeed.

Here are 4 best practices she recommends to create a winning internship program for your business:

1.  Match Your Needs to Intern Skills

Hiring a mechanical engineering student to perform clerical work or a communications major to do bookkeeping doesn’t particularly help either the student or your business. It’s important first to carefully assess your current needs and clearly and precisely communicate those needs to college placement offices.

According to Beesley, before advertising for an intern, ask yourself these questions:

  • How will the intern’s skills and talent help you achieve your business goals?
  • Who in the organization will you tap to mentor and supervise your intern?
  • Do you have sufficient work for the intern to perform?
  • What training will the intern require, and are you prepared to provide it?
  • Where in the office will you locate your intern, and what resources will he or she need?
  • When do you most need the intern—in the summer, during the school year, or both?

2.  Create an Effective Recruitment Plan

The best internship programs treat the hire of an intern with the same seriousness they bring to the hire of a regular, full-time employee—this is important, since many interns will eventually join the company. That means creating a meaningful and thorough job description and posting those job announcements with college career services offices.

College placement offices develop relationships with businesses that regularly hire their students as interns, and ramping up can take some time. To begin, identify schools in which majors relevant to your business are prominent and internship programs are robust and thriving.

Each year, the Princeton Review lists the best internship programs in the country—schools like Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, Claremont McKenna College in California, and Wabash College in Indiana. Find the best colleges for internships in your area and schedule introductory meetings with the college placement officers at those schools.

3.  Consider the Benefits of Paid Internships

Unpaid internships will provide your business with free labor, but they also limit your options. For example, unpaid interns can’t perform work that directly contributes to your company’s operations—things like answering emails, filing papers or documenting inventory. Paying interns substantially expands the duties they can perform, adding to your productivity and better positioning them to assume full-time, paid positions in the future.

4.  Attract the Best Interns with Incentives

The most talented students have multiple options for internships. To attract top talent, consider offering benefits which will make your company stand out from the competition. Some of the best internship programs offer benefits like participation in social activities, paid holidays, scholarships, flex time, and one-on-one formal mentoring and training.

Creating an internship program from scratch can be a challenging proposition. Fortunately, there are leading companies whose business is to help your business grow and steer clear of legal entanglements. To learn more about the ways our insurance and employee benefits services can help you run your business more efficiently, contact us today.