The Pros and Cons of Summer Internships

by | Small Business Consulting

A business associate about to hire a summer intern for the first time couldn’t believe what he was about to do. “It seems like I was just an intern myself,” he said.

It had actually been about twelve years, but if you were fortunate enough – or ambitious enough – to secure a meaningful internship during your college summers, you can probably relate to his reaction.

In any case, summer internships are a fully-ingrained part of corporate culture in the U.S. Statistics are hard to come by, but companies in nearly every industry and across the country hire interns every year, likely numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

An internship can be a great opportunity, for both you and the young person you bring on board. But before you make the commitment it’s smart to look at the pros and cons.

The Pros of Summer Internships

  • Talent at a Discount. We won’t insult your potential interns in particular, or the process in general, by referring to your temporary charges as “cheap labor.” But in reality, the understood arrangement is that you pay your intern less than he or she might make elsewhere (heck, waiting tables pays better than most internships) in exchange for experience, contacts, and – maybe – a “foot in the door.” This is good for you both.
  • A Fresh Perspective. College students are constantly exposed to new ideas, technologies, and points of view. You expect your intern to soak up knowledge from you and your co-workers, so there’s no harm in turning the tables occasionally. Ask questions. What are the latest marketing theories your MBA student is learning? What does your HR major think of your application process and interviewing techniques? Can your sophomore engineering student suggest improvements in your quality control measures?
  • A Three-Month Interview. This is a luxury you would normally never have. If your long-term plans indicate that you might need to add staff a year from now, you can view the internship as a 90-day trial run or interview. But focus on the intern’s personal traits and work habits, not on what might  be a potential opening next spring. For example, if you have a terrific intern in your sales department, maybe some of her skills can be applied to an opening in customer service, if that’s where your needs develop.
  • Projects ‘R Us. Do you need your database scrubbed and updated? A catalog re-written? Maybe your over-burdened operations manager just needs an extra set of hands to get caught up. Those projects that tend to fall through the cracks because you’re not sure whose responsibility they should be are often perfect fits for summer interns. The intern gets a thorough introduction to an important part of your business, and you get to keep your attention on other priorities and obligations.

The Cons of Summer Internships

  • It’s a 40-Hour Week. Do you honestly have enough meaningful work for the internship to make sense for everyone involved? You don’t have to have every minute of the 12-week summer planned out, but there should be enough in the way of regular responsibilities and project-type activity (see above) to make your intern feel involved and to prevent him from growing bored.
  • Scheduling? You’ll Need to be Flexible. Maybe you’re okay with this. Hey, you’re only young once. College students, especially those that are home from school, will want time to catch up with family and friends. Some companies expect this and are very accommodating. If you’ve found a good match and want to extend an offer, you might want to ask about her non-work plans for the summer. If a couple weeks in Cape Cod are in the works, fine. Have her send back some blue crab. But make sure you know well in advance so you’re not caught short-handed.
  • You May Need to Manage Expectations. If the internship wasn’t a great fit, well…it’s over in a couple months, anyway. What can be problematic is if the intern thinks it went better than you did. If there’s no chance you’ll hire this person permanently, thank him for his work at the end of the summer and wish him well. In any case, you could offer to provide a reference, assuming he wasn’t a total disaster.
  • You Have to Communicate Openly with Permanent Staff. This can actually make more work for you – which is why it’s in the “con” category – but it’s important that your regular employees know what the intern’s responsibilities include, who can assign her additional duties, and how administrative matters pertaining to the internship will be handled. After the first summer, it should be easy.

How and Where to Find the Right Intern

Contact placement offices at the schools where you’re interested in finding talent.

Better yet, contact the placement office (you will need their help, so don’t end-run them), but ask to be directly connected to academic department where your likely candidates are completing most of their coursework. Faculty members can recommend particularly talented students that might fit your requirements.

Besides providing access to good candidates, the school should be able to provide you information regarding acceptable pay rates, evaluations required by the school, and any other logistical matters relating to the internship.

Good luck with the search, and have a great summer!

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