Three tips for creating a program that works--for you and your intern

By David Lewis, President & CEO, OperationsInc

Student internships can be a big help to businesses and a positive learning experience for interns. Designing and executing a successful internship program requires some careful thought and preparation. Consider the following tips:

Make a plan. Your plan should include a list of the roles best suited for an intern at your company. A common mistake firms make is to take on interns first and figure out their role second; obviously, it should be the other way around. While it may be acceptable for an intern to perform routine tasks, it's critical that he or she take something valuable away from the experience. Consequently, your plan should focus as much on educating as on securing services. The best plans have interns participating in one or more projects, with regular discussions to assess the intern's understanding and progress and get his or her feedback.

Pay your interns. Much has been written about the risks of failing to comply with applicable legal standards when it comes to unpaid interns. (To learn more, listen to "Taking on an Intern," a series of CBIA Business Minutes featuring CBIA HR Counsel Mark Soycher.) The reality is that all interns must be paid; the question comes down to the form of currency. Some interns are paid a predetermined wage, with taxes withheld, just as with any employee. (Be sure that your pay rate meets or exceeds the relevant minimum wage.)

In other cases, interns receive college credit for their time with your company. If that's the arrangement, you'll need to provide documentation that explains how your opportunity meets the school's requirements for internships. Typically, colleges with internship programs have procedures for assessing and approving outside organizations as internship sites.

Consider your intern as a potential hire. Interns often can be considered for future employment with your company. A well-planned internship program provides a low-risk opportunity to evaluate an intern's potential as a permanent contributor and can help reduce the cost per hire and minimize future turnover.

The question of the month is sponsored by Norwalk HR outsourcing and consulting firm OperationsInc.