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How to recruit and hire interns

To recruit and hire interns effectively, define your needs and structure a program that adds value to both the intern and your company. Advertise opportunities on job boards and college career pages, and consider employee referrals. Ensure a balanced workload, provide training, and evaluate the program regularly.

Christina Pavlou
Christina Pavlou

An experienced recruiter and HR professional who has transferred her expertise to insightful content to support others in HR.

For recent graduates who lack experience, the value of an internship is obvious: they move from theoretical knowledge to a real work environment. But companies also benefit from good internship programs, so long as they’re structured to train junior employees.

Why is hiring interns important?

The value of internships for employers

Good internship programs treat junior workers as real staff members who perform worthwhile tasks. These programs:

  • Evaluate potential hires’ skills on the job. You can assess an intern’s work performance before deciding to extend an employment offer to them.
  • Cultivate teaching and leadership skills. Current employees develop their training abilities as they hire and mentor interns.
  • Reveal areas for improvement. Interns offer new perspectives and may ask questions that challenge the status quo.
  • Showcase your company. Internships can be a valuable way of connecting with recent graduates who will learn your company culture and may be prime candidates to fill entry-level roles in the future.

Good internships are a boost to your employer brand and a boon for your recruitment strategy. Define your needs for hiring interns and structure a program to hire qualified people who will add value to your company.

Ways to recruit interns

Here are some places to advertise your internship opportunities and look for recent graduates:

Job boards Internships
Way up
After College
College careers pages Harvard
University of Virginia
University of Washington
Social networks LinkedIn
Stack Overflow

You could also turn to your employees for guidance to recruit interns. Look up where your most recent hires or employees with the longest tenures studied. Network with the alumni groups or career centers of these colleges. Job fairs are good places to source people with little or no experience who are interested in kick-starting their careers with an internship.

RelatedIdeas for a successful recruiting event

Go to your employees for referrals, but be sure to treat your internship program like any other hiring program. If your company has rules against hiring employees’ relations, that should apply to interns too. Internship programs shouldn’t be nepotistic, they should be a serious part of a company’s hiring pipeline.

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How to build a successful internship program

Hiring interns involves planning for them. Know what your interns need to do, prepare their onboarding and assign them specific projects. And, most importantly, guide them through their internship application process and work experience.

We asked our Junior Accountant, Aris Toumpanakis, to share some insights from his time working as an intern at Workable from June to December 2016:

My team invested time in my training during the internship, which made me realize my job was important and valuable. Not only did they teach me how to use accounting software and perform my duties, but they also acted -and still act- as my mentors to help me adjust to a professional environment.

To build an internship program that works, consider the following do’s and don’ts:

Don’t offer unpaid internships

Unpaid internships send the message to current employees, potential candidates and your customers that certain jobs are less meaningful than others and should not be rewarded. Also, unless they follow very strict guidelines, unpaid internships are illegal.

Do opt for a five to six-month internship

Seasonal internships are helpful for specific projects, but consider an intern’s onboarding period, as well. Like all employees, interns require some time and training to adjust to their new workplace. You may only scratch the surface of your intern’s potential with a two-month program.

Don’t rush the recruitment process

Interns should follow a hiring process similar to the rest of your employees, despite their lack of experience. Select the most qualified interns: those with interests and knowledge related to the positions you’re hiring for. Tests, assignments and structured interviews will help you evaluate entry-level candidates’ skills and training needs.

Do acclimate interns to your company

Make sure interns are invited to participate in company events and meetings. By participating in regular company events, your interns will better understand how your company works, which will be helpful if you decide to offer them a job after their internship. The more comfortable interns are with your company culture, the more they will be able to contribute to strengthening your business.

Don’t expect interns to know everything

Classroom learning is usually conceptual but good internships help students to apply their academic concepts to real work situations. Daily, routine work tasks (e.g. how to use business tools) may not come naturally to someone with no work experience. Spend some time to guide interns by providing them resources and training.

Do prepare a specific project

Before you offer someone an internship, think about its desirable outcomes and compile a list of tasks you want to assign the intern. Identify the needs your interns will fill and design a step-by-step approach to help them reach their goals. Designate an employee who will mentor and develop interns along the way.

Don’t ask for too much or too little

Keep a balanced workload for your interns. If you assign them too many tasks, they are likely to get stressed and make mistakes. On the other hand, having almost nothing to do throughout an internship is frustrating for interns and doesn’t benefit your company. If interns finish their daily tasks early, let them shadow coworkers to learn how to manage advanced projects.

Do evaluate your internship program

Good internships are like good academic courses. Interns and employers should both learn from the process. Ask interns what new knowledge they acquired, how they collaborated with their team and what their impressions are of your workplace. And get input from your employees on how the internship program helped them, or ask for guidance on how your internship program could be improved.

To get the most out of your internship programs, make sure your workplace prioritizes training and development. Development goes both ways though; regularly review and upgrade your programs to ensure they’re well-designed and beneficial for everyone involved.

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