Understanding the value and limitations of interns

4 Minutes Read

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

When a company has to make the decision between hiring an intern or a full or part-time staff member the question typically arises, "Is an intern worth the effort?" Also, lets be honest, you may not even entirely understand what interns do. I mean, they just go and get coffee, right? Or, they pick up the dry cleaning and organize your cloud files...?

Interns really do get a bad rap, but there are PLENTY of companies that hire them and have found incredible success. They really can provide much more value to your company than a gopher that gets coffee for everyone in the office, but remember, their success is actually your responsibility, but we'll get into that in a little bit. Understanding the value and limitations of interns in business is essential to grasp before considering if hiring them is the right decision.

Here are some great stats to get you started (feel free to click and explore at your leisure, but come back and keep reading, OK?) that you may want to review to learn more about internships from our friends at FinancesOnline:

financesonline intern statistics

Even though it can seem like an inconvenience to train staff that will only be around for a short amount of time, there are several reasons you should consider using interns for your business. There are also other considerations for why interns may not be the right fit for your business - so let's take a look.

Common Intern Value Points

To kick things off here, we're going to outline some of the values that interns could bring to the table of your company if you decide to hire them. Before reading, though, remember that these are generalizations. Interns are individually unique, so just keep that in mind while reading:

  • Fresh perspective. When your organization is successful, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut and keep plugging away with the formula that built your success. But as you may know, if your organization isn’t creating new products or improving processes, it’s falling behind competitors. Interns can bring a fresh, new perspective to your company and help you move on from being hedged in by "what has always worked" if you allow them to share their ideas openly. 
  • Knowledge of new technology and trends. Interns are often much more aware of new technology and trends - even in business despite the fact that they may have never actually had a job before. They may help you see how current trends and emerging industries fit into your business model. This knowledge can potentially help solve issues in a way you would not have even considered. You can even utilize your interns to be an in-house social media or digital research team if you don't have the resources to do that otherwise.
  • Future outstanding full-time employees. If you've structured a scalable intern program at your place of business, an internship program can be a great way to find outstanding full-time employees. To start, it helps cut down your recruiting effort and costs because you'll already know exactly how a particular intern fits into your company's culture and potential responsibilities. 

Common Intern Limitations

Now, all of the above may seem appealing, but having an intern or team of interns can also result in major limitations - here are a few examples:

  • Lack of professional maturity. For many interns, this position will be their first "real" job, or at least one of the first experiences with their chosen profession. Sadly, this means that not every intern will come with an understanding of professional etiquette. While this isn’t a reason to avoid hiring interns, it's worth considering the amount of mentoring that may be required to instill the maturity necessary for a successful career. 
  • Lack of industry knowledge. In addition to not knowing professional etiquette, interns are not experts in your field. This means you and others in your company will need to take time to teach them skills that may seem very basic. Once that foundation is established, you can entrust them with more complicated tasks. After all, that’s partially why they’ve taken the internship with your company – so they can learn skills that will help them in their future career. You will need to consider if your team has the bandwidth to teach those basic skills. 
  • Time and availability. Many interns can only work on a part-time basis as they are typically finishing a school semester or are trying to fulfill a qualification to graduate. This can create challenges for businesses that require more time to be spent on projects. Interns also may be new to time management, meaning that they may not understand punctuality and the professional requirements of time management in a business setting. This will result in additional training from a senior staff member.

Should your company hire interns?

What may seem like a simple question is really one that takes much consideration to answer. From our perspective, we only tell companies to hire interns who have the following or are ready to create the following things:

  • a dedicated, senior-level, mentor-minded leader who is solely dedicated to managing a single or team of interns
  • a detailed, outlined program that is easy for both the intern and manager to follow with bulleted, outlined steps that allow the intern to measure the success of their internship - going to Starbucks for everyone, every day should not be a primary step
  •  a compensation plan for internships (no, free internships are NOT a good idea and also are very devaluing)
  • a long-haul retention strategy for why you're hiring the intern and how that intern will fit into a full-time position at your company

Most companies don't have great internship programs. It's just a fact that we've noticed with many of our clients that have attempted the fete. In fact, the primary reason why we see this happen is because interns are seen as quick, easy and cheap labor - and that is a horrible, unproductive reason to hire interns.

Remember - interns are people, just like you. They may be young and lack experience, but so were we at some point in our lives, right? So, make sure that your reasoning for hiring an intern or team of interns is because you're prepared to pour into their professional growth.

Successfully implementing an effective internship program can create not only great PR for your organization, but will also carry amongst social circles and social media channels - showcasing the value of your workforce, mission and value.

If you're not quite sure that your business' internship program is hitting the mark, our team of leadership and development consultants are here to help. We'll even buy you coffee (that hopefully is not retrieved for you by your intern) before your scheduled discovery meeting with us. So, make sure to contact us here to get started. 

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Picture of Elizabeth Krohn

Elizabeth Krohn

Elizabeth "Beth" Krohn is the founder and CEO of Krohn Marketing Inc.