With the jobs market becoming increasingly crowded, internships have become the standard entrance gate for a significant number of different careers. This has increasingly become a point of contention in recent years, with the ethics of unpaid labour being called into question. However, despite this, if managed responsibly internships can be a tool that benefit all involved.
“There are several benefits for young businesses,” says Andrew Scherer, the communications director of Inspiring Interns. One of the UK’s leading intern recruitment agencies, Inspiring Interns works with a full-spectrum of enterprises, from those that are just launching to blue chips. However the businesses for whom internship schemes tend to be the most valuable are start-ups. “What we find is when they get someone in, they get someone who’s going to have a completely fresh perspective,” he explains.
Often the most valuable thing an intern can bring is a fresh set of eyes. “Particularly when it’s a graduate, they don’t have any preconceptions,” Scherer comments. Because they aren’t limited by ideas of ‘how things should be done’, it is far easier for them to think outside of boundaries and innovate – something that fills a very valuable niche.
“The companies have been too close to the project and they don’t have the time to sit down and start thinking about new opportunities.”
A valuable relationship with your intern comes with recognising that it needs to be reciprocal. Rather than simply being an employee you don’t have to pay, your intern has to be getting some reward for their work. “Essentially it’s just about putting a bit of time in,” comments Scherer. Whilst paying their lunch and travel costs as a gesture of good will is certainly a start, you need to respect that they’re there for real experience. As Scherer says: “In an internship opportunity the intern is predominantly there to learn – and obviously they will contributing to the company – but alongside a careful structure, getting a lot of feedback and being carefully supervised.”
Putting in place this sort of structure requires time, effort and above all a commitment. But an enterprise needs to understand that this is part of the trade off. “You’re paying an intern lunch and travel expenses rather than a full wage,” remarks Scherer. “You can’t be enforcing series of tasks on people, you can’t expect them to work independently all the time.” This does signify a reasonable investment in terms of time and planning but when a start-up truly appreciates the dynamic, the rewards can be pronounced. “As long as company’s understand that then it usually works to their advantage,” he says. “The more you put into it from a company’s perspective, the more you get out of it from the intern.”
Obviously investing time and money in honing talent is all well and good but often if you have helped get someone up to speed, then you’ll be rather keen to hold on to them. “I think there’s some impetus on the part of the business to consider keeping the intern at the end if they’ve proved themselves,” remarks Scherer. Particularly if the intern has capably demonstrated their ability then it is worth keeping an eye on the future and trying to earmark some money for the recruitment pot. “If you are a start up and you’ve found someone who works well with you, has bought into the company, has proven that they can add value to your company, it seems ludicrous that you would then let them go,” he says. Even if you aren’t in a position to take them on at the moment, it’s worth remaining in touch with them for the future. Additionally, introducing them to other people in your network is a way of showing you appreciate all their hard work.
But start-ups are vulnerable places and there’s very little spare capital for mistakes. How can you be sure that running an internship doesn’t end up being a costly mistake? “You have to look at it within the context of hiring an intern versus hiring a full employee from the word go,” says Scherer. The majority of the time the issues will be the same whether you’re hiring a full-time employee or an unpaid intern; you don’t know whether they will fit into the team or share the ethos of your company and you can’t entirely predict what the quality of their work ethic will be. But, he explains: “You have the same issues but the risk to the business in terms of financial outlay is obviously a lot smaller, so that mitigates risk.”
Upon weighing up your options, an intern can often the best bet for your fledgling venture. But that doesn’t mean that finding one on your own is necessarily easy.
Which is why services like Inspiring Interns can prove to be invaluable. “We spend a lot of time, both with the intern and the company, getting to know what they’re like, what their personality’s like, what the company’s culture is like,” Scherer says. “When we come to send potential applicants to a company, we’re confident that they’re going to be the right fit.” When looking at graduates for their internships, Inspiring Interns conduct lengthy face-to-face interviews, getting to know the candidates. Once they have identified their strengths and the kind of opportunities they are best suited to, they then create a video CV of the candidates for their website. “It means employers can get a good look at someone before they meet them, explains Scherer. “It almost acts like a first round interview.” This means organisations can find interns that truly fit their needs.
Ultimately an intern scheme is like any investment – generally the more you put in the more you stand to gain. And whilst you need to ensure you put the work in, it can be the beginning of a long and happy working relationship.