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4 Keys to Finding Summer Interns

Topic: Entrepreneur Evangelist,Managing Your Business | Comments (1)

Posted on May 17, 2010 by admin

Student Interns and EmployeesOne magical little word: intern.  If you want to see a business owner’s face light up with glee, all you need to do is mention it.

Without fail, you’re guaranteed to conjure images of free labor executing all the tedious, mundane tasks that every business owner is eager to hand off to someone else.

However, you better hold your horses a second, because the world of internships it’s not as simple as all that.

So, with that in mind, here are the four things to do to line up a summer intern for your business.

Paid Internship Instead of Unpaid

Of course, this is the one that no business owner wants to hear. After all, isn’t the whole point of hiring an intern so that you don’t have to pay? Nope. And you need to know this.

Due to the recession, more and more employers have taken the opportunity to use unpaid interns to get work done. Unfortunately, a healthy percentage of those have done so in violation of the rules of internship that govern where the line is between an actual intern and simple unpaid labor. It’s important to remember that the definition of an intern was never intended to be “free labor who can make your coffee and pick up your dry cleaning.”

The US Department of Labor has clarified the rules on internships, and any business owner who is considering bringing on an intern, would do well to read through them. Several states have begun cracking down on employers who are in violation of these rules, so make no mistake about it, not knowing how to navigate this space could absolutely cost you more than you are prepared to pay.

(One of the most important criteria to note is the nature of the work and the supervision they receive.  Even if you pay an intern, by having them do work that no one else in your business knows how to do, or for which they are not getting coaching and direct supervision from an employee, you are still in violation of the intern criteria.)

The simplest solution? Skip the formal “intern” bit – and definitely skip the “unpaid intern” bit – and just hire temporary summer help. If having to pay kills your ability to bring someone in, then see if you can arrange a per-project contract.

Seek Interns in Smaller Schools

In many places this isn’t an issue, but here in Austin this is a big, big point that can save a business owner’s time and sanity: go to the smaller schools to find interns (or just plain student employees).

Austin, Texas is home of the ever-famous University of Texas Longhorns. It’s a great school, and culturally, it dominates the city. However, it is not the only school in town. Quite the contrary. Not only do we have several other respectable local institutions - St. Edward’s UniversityHuston-Tillotson University, and Austin Community College – but we also have regional campuses for other schools, such as Texas StateUniversity of PhoenixConcordia UniversityVirginia College and more.  These are all amazing sources for eager students looking for internship opportunities.

And my own personal pet-plug: look at community and city colleges. More often than not, that’s where you’ll find the hungriest students, the most eager to find ways to differentiate themselves and build valuable long-term relationships. When it comes to hiring intern help, the biggest name schools are rarely the most valuable choices for small business owners, so always look to the less popular choices on your quest for great internship candidates.

Remember, the more competitive the college was to get into, the more options those students have, which means you will be competing with larger employers who can pay more. Go with smaller, slightly less competitive schools, and you’ve got prospective interns who are still trying to carve out their niche and leave their mark. That’s always a better prospect for an employer.

Use Distance as a Tool to Find Great Interns

While there are plenty of things that need to be done in a face-to-face setting, there are also plenty of things that can be done over distance. So what schools do you have at your disposal that are a bit farther away? An hour and a half commute may not be reasonable to do every day, but it’s still close enough to do once every other week, with virtual contact in between.

We live in a Web 2.0 world. Take advantage of it. Again, here in Austin, we have several large colleges 1-2 hours outside of town - Texas Status University in San Marcos to the South, Baylor University in Waco to the North, and several others in between.  These students live in smaller university towns where there are more students than there are valuable employment opportunities.  If you’ve struggled with finding qualified and motivated interns with your local big name school, I strongly suggest reaching out to one of the other institutions in the nearby region.

Broaden your thinking, and then reach out. Outlying areas can be a much better place to look, if you understand how to manage an intern remotely.

High School Interns

This is my favorite of all, but it’s the one that always gets the biggest knee-jerk reaction: hire a high school student instead of a college student. Did you know that high school unemployment has sky-rocketed to 26% during the recession? Even worse, they are having to compete with Baby Boomers whose retirement accounts have taken a beating. And who do you think usually gets hired when a high school student goes head-to-head with a Baby Boomer for a job stocking shelves at Walmart?

There are other really great reasons to consider high school interns, as well. For starters, a high performing high school student is still trying to differentiate themselves from their peers, because they know that is the key to getting into college. Where do you think all those big name college students came from? They were top performing high school students first. So grab them on the way up, when they still have a ton to prove.

Digital natives are often really great at things that us older folks struggle with. Whether it’s learning new software, creative problem solving, or doing research. Take advantage of the fact that they have no recollection of a time when “Google” wasn’t a verb, and don’t underestimate the difference that has on their view of both the world generally and work specifically.

Whatever you do about bringing in more help for your business, just remember, if you go with an unpaid internship, make sure you know the rules and are dotting your I’s and crossing your T’s. Otherwise, skip the “internship” piece and just hire a student for a summer or part-time job.

Students do have amazing value to contribute to businesses. Business owners just need to stop fantasizing about a world in which that value doesn’t require any investment on our part.