Each summer, Jennifer Adams Bunkers, founder and CEO of TruKids, a company that sells natural and organic body care products for children, hires three to five high school and college students to work at her company.
Bunkers, who launched her Oakland-based company seven years ago, says interns provide invaluable assistance during her company’s busy season, and leave at the end of the summer with a wealth of experience.
Like many small business owners, Bunkers has found that hiring interns helps to fill short-term gaps.
“The work our interns do during the summer carries us through the year,” she says. “In addition to packing and shipping products, our interns have written product copy, conducted product research, and helped with social media.”
Could your business benefit from an internship program?
The Small Business Administration (SBA) notes that internship programs are a smart recruitment strategy for small businesses, allowing them to nurture and feed their full-time hiring efforts. If you’re considering hiring interns to help with your small business needs, consider the following:
- Plan Ahead
“Internships need to be planned carefully so that the small business and the intern both have a mutually beneficial experience,” says Allison Cheston, a career advisor, who also offers small businesses guidance on hiring interns. “But managing expectations on both sides is crucial.”
Hiring an intern to do filing, or Starbucks runs, isn’t a good hiring strategy, Cheston says. Interns want their experience to be valuable. They want to learn and benefit from their internship experiences. They won’t get that if they’re only expected to get coffee for the staff.
In addition to being clear about what tasks you want the intern to accomplish, she recommends having someone earmarked to manage their work.
At TruKids, Bunkers and one of her managers oversee the work of interns. They use a whiteboard to map out tasks for the entire summer, and allow interns to pick specific duties that interest them. At the end of the summer, Bunkers helps the interns to write a resume.
“These interns are very enthusiastic and the energy is very high when they’re here,” Bunkers says. “They inspire me every day.”
- Prepare to Pay
Don’t look at internships as a way of obtaining free labor. “There has been a lot of controversy around unpaid internships sponsored by for-profit companies who are trying to save money and cut corners,” Cheston says “Generally speaking, for profit companies should pay interns whereas there is more leeway with non-profit institutions, especially if they are mission-focused.”
Bunkers notes that her interns do real work at TruKids that match their interests, and allow them to gain knowledge and make a genuine contribution to the company.
“Our sales are high in the summer, so I can afford to pay them $12.50-$16 an hour,” Bunkers says. “In return, they work hard for their money and give me real value.”
If you can’t afford to pay your interns, it may be possible to offer college credit for their work. Reach out to a local college and ask about the process to allow students at your business to complete an internship for course credit.
- Know Where to Recruit
While Bunkers has found success by recruiting interns through word of mouth marketing, and local high schools, and colleges, there are also a number of online resources available. In addition, career counselors at local community colleges and trade schools can help small businesses to locate interns for specific tasks.
- Take a Look at Your Benefits
Another method to help you recruit quality interns is by offering them benefits during the internship. If you have employees, you may offer them different benefits, such as paid time off or even tuition reimbursement. Take a look at your benefits program and see if it makes sense to extend it to your interns. Maybe they’ll get paid holidays or the ability to work remotely. You can also offer mentorship opportunities to interns. The opportunity to join you on a business trip or getting first-hand experience can be valuable to an intern. Even small benefits, like offering flexible schedules, can help you attract interns to your business.
- Treat Them Like Team Members
Interns can sometimes feel out of place. They typically are working at a business for a set amount of time, so they know they aren’t full-time employees. But including your interns and making them a part of the team can go a long way.
Invite them to meetings, give them an opportunity to be open and provide their opinions. By creating an environment where your interns feel comfortable, everyone benefits. The interns gain valuable experience during their internship. And you and your employees get a fresh perspective on projects and ideas.
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