Starting a Successful Internship Program
October 1, 2006
Utah Business Magazine
For many small business owners who juggle heavy workloads and limited budgets for staff, the prospect of finding a smart, ambitious intern-particularly one who is unpaid and can help lighten the work load-may seem like a dream come true.
However, according to many internship experts in Utah, finding an intern willing to work unpaid can be difficult. Jim White, assistant director of Career Services at the University of Utah and an 18-year veteran of career counseling, reports that most college students won't consider taking an internship that does not pay. "Pay is the first thing the student looks at. Generally, most of the students we counsel have to be paid in order to support themselves while going to school because 84 percent of them work while they pursue a degree."
While students are also looking for an opportunity to gain real-world experience and new skills in their chosen field, White cautions that not paying interns limits the pool of qualified applicants to the approximately 15 percent of students who can afford to work unpaid. The exact amount an intern should be paid varies from industry to industry. White encourages companies to set the pay based on the nature of the work the intern will be doing.
Beverly Christy, director of the Career Resource Center at Westminster College, is more specific. "If an employer says they can't afford to pay, we encourage them to offer a stipend-a set amount of money for the semester-rather than an hourly wage," she says. "For small budgets, we suggest in the range of $500 - $1000 for the semester."
Although internships can no longer be considered free labor, there remain many advantages for hiring interns. "The companies benefit because interns give them the ability to fill temporary, part-time or seasonal positions," explains Christy. However, she cautions employers not to think of an intern as a temp. In fact, schools won't approve an internship if the work the student does is strictly administrative. White adds, "I don't think there is much of analogy between temping and interning."
Immersed in studies and preparing for a career, interns bring a fresh perspective to any organization. Additionally, Christy says, "At Westminster, we give companies access to the expertise of Westminster faculty who advise our interns while they are working with the company or organization. This allows companies to tap into the intellectual resources and perspectives of our faculty as well as our students, and many companies have told us they appreciate this."
Hiring an intern offers another advantage-it allows both the intern and the organization to evaluate whether the position might be a good fit for permanent employment, since most internships only last the length of an academic semester. Hiring the wrong person for the job can cause a company to waste a tremendous amount of time, money and energy. "There is a significant increase in the average retention rate and job satisfaction among employees hired through an internship program," Christy says.
Where to Start
The search for an intern begins with writing a detailed job description, which helps schools identify the most qualified student. At most Utah schools, career counselors can help companies new to the process develop an appropriate internship description. The number of hours a student works is generally determined by the number of academic credit hours they earn. For example, at Westminster a three credit hour internship requires a student work a minimum of nine hours per week for a total of 126 hours in a semester. Each school will have different requirements.
Finding well qualified interns is relatively simple. All of Utah's colleges and universities have offices devoted to helping students find internships and jobs. Many schools in the state have joined forces to share internship postings online at www.rockyjobs.org. Through this free service, companies can reach more than 200,000 potential employees or interns at once. Many universities offer online sites where companies can post internships and find contact information for career counselors.
Companies should begin advertising for an internship several weeks prior to the semester they would like to have a student working. Finally, experts remind companies there will be a learning curve for most interns and that someone inside the organization should be responsible for teaching and supervising them. Even so, all agree interns can bring value to a company through their education, ambition and enthusiasm.
Helen Langan is a Salt Lake City-based freelance writer and public relations professional.