Interns get a bad rap.
Movies and TV typically lead us to envisioning them getting to the office early while balancing a dozen coffees and carrying the boss's dry cleaning, or as someone buried in the basement of a building doing only the work no one else is willing to finish. While these stereotypes can occasionally ring true, internships typically are created to offer genuine insight into an organization and grant interns practical work experience.
For the organizations themselves, there are also numerous benefits to having an internship program, but many of these reasons—or how to achieve them—can be overlooked. Let's look at some strategies that can help you get the most out of their time and potentially gain a full-time employee in the process.
"Free" Labor—Priceless Minds
The most obvious reason to hire interns is "free" labor. For the most part, interns aren't technically free—reimbursing gas and lunch tends to be standard practice—but the expense for them will always be exponentially less than a paid employee even if you're just asking them to complete menial tasks.
In many ways, however, interns can be priceless. YEC Women wrote in Forbes, "Interns challenge ‘the way we've always done it' mentality and bring fresh, new ideas to the company." Since they exist without a major stake in the company, interns will often bring a new perspective to a project that your team might not have thought of before. It can often be beneficial to find interns who don't match the mold of your typical employee in hopes of generating these differing perspectives. If anything else, the internship offers a new experience for the interns to take with them.
Interns are also commonly younger in age, often fresh out of—or still in—school, which today means they're likely good with technology and quick to adapt to anything new. They don't immediately know the ins and outs of your business, so you can use them as your own personal focus group.
Treat Them As Hires
Everything starts with the hiring of interns. Treat them as you would any other candidate, including a professional application process, an interview, and even a personality assessment. The latter can be a key piece of finding a long-term potential employee. We've covered the subject before, but finding a personality that fits your company culture and existing employees can be the lynchpin in keeping an employee happy.
Taking a professional approach to this process not only lends itself to providing you with better interns but also gives the candidate the experience of going through a typical hiring process, which is something of value for them to walk away with regardless of being selected or not.
The Long Haul
Intern contracts typically have a finite timeline, but that doesn't mean you should approach an intern as a short-term employee. Internships.com encourages employees to treat these programs as a chance to "test-drive the talent," and reported that 40% of employers that hired interns saw a longer five-year retention rate. Susan Adams found that external hires were 61% more likely to be fired from a job than someone who was hired as an intern or promoted from within.
Financial gains are all over the place when it comes to hiring interns after their internship is over. To start, you can avoid the entire recruitment process. VentureBeat provides a realistic scenario in which you hiring an intern removes the potential $20k–$30k recruitment costs necessary to bring in an employee with a salary around $100k. And because the intern has been working with you for a while, you can eliminate the time and energy costs related to any training to get them up to speed with the position and the people they'll be working with—they can immediately hit the ground running. Steven Burrell takes this a step further, highlighting that someone who goes from intern to employee also brings "proven loyalty" with them, backing up the statistic that hiring from within reduces turnover.
Now of course not all interns will work out—I once found one sleeping at his desk while YouTube videos of 15-year-old video games played audibly on his screen. However, even at Traitify, we practice what we preach and have several full-time, long-term employees that first came to us as interns. With the low entry cost of bringing them onto your team, and the potential incredible long-term benefits they can provide you, an internship program is a worthwhile endeavor for your company.