It’s not an internship. It’s a job interview.
Conventional wisdom: Interns require babysitting–why would you pay them?
On the contrary: View interns as potential employees, and it’ll benefit both of you.
Here’s the thing about interns: a lot of businesses have a very one-sided relationship with them. Big companies hire interns and pay them slave wages, or work them without pay (and get sued). Interns are commitments–you promise them training and work experience. If you don’t pay them and they aren’t doing anything productive, all they do is suck energy from their mentors in exchange for names to drop on their resumes.
If you’re going to bring in quality interns, you should give them quality work. Think of it as an extended interview. Most of our interns at Big Ass Fans come in hoping for jobs anyway, so we give them large projects to get a feel for how they handle it. It’s an interesting exercise that’s resulted in some great long-term employees for us.
Get Good Interns
Put the same level of care and scrutiny into hiring interns as you would with any other employee. Of course, not all interns work out, and that’s another advantage of the system. It’s much easier to realize that an intern isn’t a great fit for the company than to learn that a new full-time hire isn’t going to work out. You can just let the internship run its course, and you don’t have to fire anyone at the end.
We have a lot of employees at Big Ass Fans who are here because they started as interns–in fact, we hire about 60% of our interns–and there are a number of people who don’t work here because we had them as interns, too. It’s all about finding the right fit.
Give Them Work
Interns don’t exist to fetch coffee (or tea, in my case) or make copies. What the hell good does that do anybody? Hire smart people and you can give them actual work to do, just like you would with any other employee.
We put interns to work on real problems we’re trying to solve. Maybe they start with lab work or research, but it’s valuable and exposes them to the real-world applications in their field. Obviously you won’t have them running departments on their first day, but give them tasks with some substance.
Pay Them Well
You get what you pay for. Paying your interns well gets you the same benefits as good wages across the board–you get a better pool of people to choose from, and you get better-quality work from them. If your company culture involves paying employees well (and it should!), interns should be treated the same.
A Job is a Job
Interns are employees. It’s that simple. Find an arrangement that works for everyone involved, and internships can be a great opportunity for both you and them. They get experience and a great chance to prove themselves, and you get an extended interview with someone who could turn out to be a great addition to your company. Your next intern could be your next superstar–don’t relegate them to coffee duty.
More from Inc.com: