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How Summer Interns Can Help Your Business

How Summer Interns Can Help Your Business

By: Linda Childers

With the nation’s job outlook continuing to look bright, many small businesses are preparing to host interns this summer.

Summer internship programs allow students to explore potential careers and obtain valuable job experience.

“Small businesses offer a number of advantages to interns that larger companies don't,” says Allison Farber Cheston, a New York career adviser who helps interns connect with employers, and also offers small businesses guidance on hiring. Cheston says small businesses can also be more responsive to the varying skill sets candidates may bring.

For example, a computer design student might be perfect to help your business launch a new website, or an intern majoring in marketing could assist you in creating a campaign to attract new customers.

If you’ve been thinking of hosting interns this summer, here are some tips to consider:

Determine Specific Job Functions -- While it can be tempting to hire additional staff to cover for employee vacations, it’s important to assess your business needs and have specific job duties in mind when bringing on an intern.

Also consider having a back-up plan, if your summer business isn’t as robust as you’d hoped.

By engaging candidates with specific skills, Cheston notes you might be able to get a head start on the rest of the year by having interns update your social media sites, conduct product research, and work on other projects you may have put on the back burner.

Recruit the Right Way -- At Power Train Sports and Fitness, a sports performance and fitness chain based in Manheim, Penn., franchise owners brings on 3-10 interns each summer.

“Many of our interns are high school and college athletes who have trained with us in the past,” says Scott Morris, vice president of operations for Power Train.

If recruiting interns from your existing customer base isn’t possible, Cheston recommends referencing a list of colleges and universities in your region and focusing your recruitment efforts there.

Embrace Social Media -- Today’s students are increasingly searching for internships online and your recruiting efforts should reflect this. Use your company website, Facebook page and Twitter account to spread the word about your internship program and other job openings.

If you don’t have an internal recruiter, designate an employee to be in charge of summer hiring, ideally someone who will directly manage and train summer interns.

“Once your company has found a viable candidate, a phone interview is a reasonable pre-screening device, followed by a Skype or in-person interview for the second round,” Cheston says.

Invest in Training -- Many small businesses have found that conducting a more thorough employee orientation ensures consistency across the workforce, and generates employee loyalty.

To help your interns start off on the right foot, more companies are offering enhanced onboarding programs.

At Power Train, summer interns go through a hands-on training that combines mock fitness classes, shadowing coaches, and learning how to create an individualized fitness program for clients.

Design a Creative Benefits Package --  If you can’t offer summer interns the same competitive wages as larger businesses in your area, consider offering more creative benefits such as a relaxed business casual dress code, flexible hours, events such as a company barbeque or specially-designated summer days such as “Smoothie Fridays” where you provide fresh ingredients to make smoothies for your employees (and customers).

At Power Train, summer employees are given complimentary gym privileges.

Look to the Future -- When engaging interns, look for workers who could prove to be valuable team members if openings arise at your small business in the future.

“We look for interns who show potential of becoming full-time employees,” says Steve Saunders, Power Train founder. 

“Working here for a summer is a way for both the managers and the interns to determine if this is a good fit. Many of our summer employees go on to join our team in a more permanent capacity.”

Cheston says it’s especially important to keep your future hiring needs in mind when hiring student interns for the summer.

“Offering competitive salaries and a variety of hands-on experiential learning to students in multiple areas can make your small business a very attractive option.”