Thinking of hiring an intern? Read this first
By: Tanya de Grunwald, Monster Contributing Writer
Internships can be great – but bad press has left many employers confused about the facts. If you're thinking of hiring an intern, Tanya de Grunwald, founder of graduate jobs blog GraduateFog.co.uk and author of How to Get a Graduate Job in a Recession has this advice:
- Be one of the good guys - There is major kudos to be gained from being a responsible employer of young people, after dozens of well-known employers have been exposed for running poor quality, unpaid internships. The culture really is changing.
- Know the law - If your interns are doing the placement as part of their course, just work shadowing (observing) or you're a charity, the law says you needn't pay them a penny. But, if your interns will have set hours, set responsibilities, do valuable work and you're a private company, they'll probably qualify as a 'worker' under minimum wage law. This means they must be paid at least £6.31 an hour if they're 21 or over.
- Don't bend the rules - It doesn't matter if your interns say they're happy to work for free - they can't waive their right to the minimum wage. Unpaid interns can demand back pay for their work up to six years after the end of the internship, even if they agree to work for free at the time. Several cases like this have already been fought and won.
- Play the long game - Research shows that paying interns improves the experience for everyone. Interns earning a wage are more productive and report higher levels of loyalty and commitment towards their employer - a good start if you opt to hire them at the end of their internship. Pay also ensures that the opportunity is open to candidates from all social backgrounds - not just those who can afford to work for free.
- Advertise widely - Yes, recruiting can be a pain - and it's tempting to ask around before advertising an internship publicly. Resist. Think of all the young people who are packed with potential but don't have the contacts and connections to workplaces like yours. Fair access is the issue here.
- Interview candidates properly - If you pay a wage and advertise the role properly, you have every right to be picky! Interview candidates as you would for any other role. Avoid asking gimmicky questions or setting tasks - it can undermine the value and credibility of the opportunity you're offering.
- Look for potential, not experience - Candidates with bags of relevant experience may have gained it through unpaid internships - which others can't afford to do. When assessing CVs, don't discount those who have worked in shops or cafes. Their experience may not be directly relevant to your workplace - but they have probably picked up valuable transferrable skills.
- Create structured tasks - If you've hired them properly, make the most of them once they arrive! Make sure tasks are always job-related (picking up lunch is fine - picking up your kids is not). Give them duties to 'own' and a project to complete during their internship. Make two lists: "What will our interns gain?" and "What will our company gain?" These should be roughly balanced.
- Appoint a designated manager - Your interns will need supervision, like any other new member of staff. Someone in your organisation should take responsibility for their workload and know exactly what they're up to at any time.
- Provide feedback and a reference - To interns, feedback is gold. Provide feedback as the internship progresses to give them a chance to improve while they are there. Before their internship ends, schedule a short session to outline their strengths and areas for development in the future.
Tanya de Grunwald is the founder of graduate careers blog GraduateFog.co.uk and the author of How to Get a Graduate Job in a Recession. She is also the head of content at plotr.co.uk. Contact Tanya via email or on Twitter @GraduateFog.