What you need to know before hiring an intern
Internships can be a great way for startups to work with talented students or graduates. Interns and employers have popularised the practice because it affords both sides an opportunity to get a feel for one another on a short-term basis.
Unfortunately, in recent years there has been a lot of bad press surrounding internships and the employers that take part in them. This has stemmed from concerns about the popularity of unpaid internships as an illegal and unethical way to gain cheap labour. The only way to ensure that you stay clean and distant from any negative connotations is to know the law surrounding interns and work towards ensuring that their experience is useful and informative.
Employment rights for interns
Unpaid internships (or just paying expenses) have become something of the norm. Students during university holidays, or fresh from graduation, are so desperate to enter the work force that they will forgo a salary for a short time to get something down on their CV. Some employers are all-too-happy to take advantage of this and will only offer to pay a stipend of around £20 to cover travel and lunch costs. There are numerous issues with this (not least because rent in London alone can average a grand a month or more), but the main problem is that it is illegal.
If you have hired someone to turn up every day and perform certain tasks under a contractual agreement, then you are required to pay them the national minimum wage. The worker cannot opt out via a written agreement (so even if they are willing to work for free, they won’t be able to).
The only way that someone can be involved in your office without being paid is either as a voluntary worker for a charity, or on a shadowing scheme (but bear in mind they must engage in observation ONLY). Knowing these rules makes it easier to understand how to plan for a short-term hire.
Why it’s a good idea
Internships can be great for both employer and employee. If a candidate is coming straight from education with bar-work filling the lion’s share of their CV, then an internship is a great way to test the waters with a potential career. Usually they will be handed real responsibility and treated like a permanent staff member to fully immerse themselves in the working world. The obvious benefits of this are that they can flesh out their CV with skills and knowledge that are hard to attain whilst studying.
For a startup, hiring an intern can be ideal for an employer needing a boost to allow for rapid growth over a few months. An internship is a great test-period for employers who can’t afford the risks of jumping straight into hiring. When there is so much to do and so little time for training at a startup it could be in your best interests to recruit someone for a few weeks to a few months to see if they can jump in at the deep end and stay afloat. If they prove themselves to be valuable over time then you will have a readymade employee who knows the business and is guaranteed to be worth the investment.
During the internship
If you have decided to hire an intern, then you should plan the ways that they will be able to add value to your organisation. It won’t benefit you or them if they are left to drift about for the few months that they are with you, unsure whether they are a help or a hindrance.
Before hiring someone, be certain that you know why you need them and where their skills will be best utilised. This will ensure that they start on their first day without any fluffing about. When you only have someone for a short amount of time, it is in your best interests to have them hit the ground running. Line up an on-boarding session as if they were to be a permanent employee and give them the benefit of a mentor.
Handing your intern meaningful tasks will be helpful to you as well as to them. They are there to learn quickly and pick up as much as possible from the experience, and you have hired them to push the business to the next step. Neither of those things will happen if you only have them fetching coffees.
After the internship
Most candidates head into an internship hoping that they will make a good impression and end up being hired permanently. If they are interning whilst studying they might wish to return during their next holiday or be hired fulltime once they graduate.
It is up to you whether you have the funds or the space available to hire someone permanently, but it could be beneficial. If they have already spent three months or more learning the ropes, and are shining in the role, then having them stay on would be a lower risk decision than letting them go and having to hire someone new further down the line. The best advice when you find a great employee is always to keep hold of them, because they get snapped up quickly.
If you decide not to make them into a permanent hire, then you should still book them in for a debrief. They will want to know how they have done, and if there is anything they should work on for the next internship or graduate job that they get. Treat this as a formal review and take the time out to offer as much constructive feedback that you can put together. Remember that as much as you are reviewing their performance, they are also getting a taste for your company and its culture – so this is the perfect way to end on a high note!