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What Do Interns Mean to Your Company?

What exactly is an intern? Well, they're not an administrative superstar or an expert coffee fetcher. If the first thing that comes to mind is cheap or free labor, then it's time to send your definition back to the drawing board.
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There's been a swarm of media attention surrounding internships, especially compensation, in the past few months. Recent lawsuits surrounding internships at Fox Searchlight and Sony and Columbia Records prove that hiring an intern isn't something to take lightly.

So, what does the term "intern" mean to you and your company? If the first thing that comes to mind is cheap or free labor, then it's time to send your definition back to the drawing board. In fact, merely labeling a worker as an intern doesn't mean you can dole out menial activities without pay.

The definition of "intern" is broken, and it needs to be fixed before we can successfully move internship programs into the future:

The Real Definition of Intern
What exactly is an intern? Well, they're not an administrative superstar or an expert coffee fetcher. A quick online search states that an intern is a student or recent graduate undergoing supervised practical training. Is your internship program providing supervised practical training within your industry?

This educational definition actually falls in line with the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division guidelines. An internship should be a hands-on, educational experience in which a student or recent graduate gains real-world immersion into a chosen industry under the direct supervision of not just an employer, but an effective internship manager. If your internship program doesn't fit these definitions and guidelines, it may be time to rethink the role of interns in your company.

Education Comes First
Interns are a beneficial asset to your company, but at the end of the day you're supposed to be providing them with an educational experience. In fact, 58.9 percent of students think gaining experience and building a portfolio is the most important aspect of an internship experience.

This makes it crucial for your internship program to establish and direct interns on several immersive tasks and duties that provide a firsthand perspective into their future career field. They should be receiving technical training and mentorship on a regular basis, and bonus points if the project you give your interns is actually designed to positively affect your company's bottom line.

If you're not providing a highly educational experience and training for your interns, you're not just doing them an injustice, you're leaving your company hanging, too. Hiring a talented intern doesn't just build up your talent pool or offer an extra set of hands, it can actually make you money. Yes, offering paid internship opportunities can impact your bottom line.

How to Transform Your Internship Experience
Redefine what interns mean to your company by redeveloping your internship program. Aside from providing compensation for future interns, you'll also want to outline a clear structure for your internship program. Choose one or more effective intern managers to help train, guide, mentor and dole out beneficial feedback throughout the semester.

Depending on your industry and company, you'll want to choose one overarching intern project, as well as a number of daily and weekly projects for your interns to accomplish. For instance, consider allowing your marketing interns to develop a new marketing plan and pitch it to your executive staff. None of these should be administrative duties. Focus on keeping your interns immersed in valuable tasks and processes within your company.

Redefining what interns mean to you and your company requires evaluation first and restructuring second. Internships are valuable experiences for both employers and students, so give your interns an educational, immersive experience to boost your bottom line and help them to kickstart their careers.

Ashley Mosley is Community Engagement Manager of InternMatch, an online platform connecting the best intern candidates and employers. Connect with Ashley and InternMatch on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

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