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1. Why Hire Interns?

It is clear that students gain a great deal from working as interns. In today's tight job market, internships have rapidly become a prerequisite for many full-time positions. The payoff for students is invaluable: real-world experience, evidence of their future job-worthiness, and contacts in their field of interest. The result is an increased demand among students for internship positions and a pool of high-value, cost effective talent for employers to recruit. But what are the key benefits to your organization should you decide to work with interns? Businesses report the following benefits from working with interns:

  • The opportunity to screen and work with potential entry-level employees prior to making a full-time commitment.
  • Reduced turnover and training among entry-level employees who were former interns
    This is financially favorable for the hiring organization.
  • A chance for junior-level managers within your organization to gain supervisory experience.
  • The convenience and flexibility of hiring additional staff during peak seasons
  • Good "word-of-mouth" in the recruiting marketplace and an increased pool of qualified candidates to meet future recruiting needs.

2. Initial Planning

Simple as it may sound, advance planning is the key to a successful internship program. Hiring an intern only to have that person sit idle, waiting for someone to assign a project, is not productive for either you or the student. Don't approach your internship program as an afterthought. Rather, consider it an important element of your staffing plan. There are many sources of information available to help you in the initial phases of developing an internship program.

  • Start by talking to counterparts in your field at other organizations to see how their programs are structured. Obtain internship recruiting literature from companies with well-established programs
  • Consult with the Cooperative Education Coordinator of the University of Arkansas' Career Development Center. The Career Development Center actively supports University of Arkansas Students from all academic departments as they pursue and secure meaningful internship experiences in Arkansas, across the country and internationally. The Career Development Center also supports a wide range of employers as they create, market, hire for, and evaluate their internship programs. International students are also eligible to participate.

3. Designing Your Program

A well-developed program benefits both the hiring organization and the intern by managing expectations and removing the "guess work" from the process. Think about your internship program as a favorable way to introduce students to your profession or industry. Before you interview and prior to any hiring decisions, establish objectives and identify on-site coordinators for your internship program. The following steps are suggestions for making explicit the elements and operation of your program.

  • Work with the supervising manager to create a job description.
    • Describe your organization and outline duties or projects associated with the internship.
  • Determine the particulars.
    • Map out the length and timing of the internship experience (i.e. summer, fall, or spring, and the number of weeks), working hours (part-time or full-time), applicant selection criteria, and compensation.
  • Select a direct supervisor for each intern.
    • This person should be responsible for assigning projects, working with the intern to provide on-the-job training, answering questions and offering regular performance reviews. The supervisor should be available and accessible to the intern either through scheduled meetings or through an "open-door" policy.
  • Develop specific projects and assignments.
    • Whenever possible, delegate beginning-to-end projects. Let interns work as a member of the team so they can learn how different departments interact within your organization.
  • Appoint an Internship Coordinator as needed for recruitment and management purposes.
    • The task of screening applicants, working with the Career Development Center, and administering the on-site activities of interns can become fairly time-consuming depending on the size of your program.
  • Coordinate logistics prior to the intern's arrival.
    • Be sure to arrange for workspace, phone use, a mailbox, e-mail accounts, payroll forms, security clearance, parking permits, and any other needs.
  • Provide training and support through an orientation or mentoring program.
    • Your program should cover the basics, including an overview of corporate philosophy, an office tour, and introductions to staff. You will also want to review the dress code, hours, and other relevant office policies. This can be handled through a formal program (if you have several interns starting on the same day) or as more informal meetings with a mentor or supervisor.
  • Establish performance criteria and offer regular feedback.
    • Again, this practice benefits both parties. It serves as a professional development experience for the intern and clarifies employer expectations of what constitutes quality performance on the job.
  • If you are hiring out-of-town interns they will have questions regarding relocation and housing.
    • While it is not an employer's responsibility to provide housing for interns, it is a good idea to serve as an information resource for the student prior to their relocation.
  • Before interns return to school, conduct an "exit interview."
    • Solicit feedback on the nature of their experience and suggestions they may have for improving the program. If the intern is someone with whom you would like to work again in the future, be sure to get updated contact information.

Remember, interns are not merely additional clerical staff. Interns should be considered an integral part of the work force who are expected to learn and understand the nature of the business and projects they are assigned. Provide meaningful work. If the interns are used purely for "busy work", neither party is maximizing the situation. Make sure interns understand the "big picture" and you'll be pleasantly surprised at the quality of work they can produce.

4. Compensation

The question of whether or not to pay interns has a number of implications for employers. It may be of some help to consider the following when determining how to compensate your interns.

  • The quality of an intern's experience need not be diminished simply because an internship is unpaid. However, the quality and number of available candidates for the hiring organization may be reduced because financial need prevents some highly qualified students from pursuing unpaid opportunities.
  • In a for-profit organization it is common for employers to offer a stipend or hourly wage. The advantage of a stipend is that you can avoid adding short-term workers to the payroll. However, be sure to determine and satisfy any federal and state income tax requirements related to paying interns.
  • In some fields like computer science and information systems, paid internships are the norm because of the specialized skills these students bring to the hiring organization. Students majoring in these fields are in demand and may have the luxury of choosing the best offer.
  • In the not-for-profit sector, it is more common for internships to be unpaid. For the most part, students interested in working with not-for-profit organizations are aware that these may be volunteer positions.
  • In the case of unpaid internships, it is typical for interns to work part-time so they can earn money through another job.
  • Should you choose to use unpaid interns and you are a for-profit organization, be sure that your intern is considered a trainee under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
  • Academic credit is available for eligible internship/Co-op experiences at the University of Arkansas. Students need to check with a Co-op Coordinator to find out if credit is possible.

Given the limited duration of internships, the out-of-pocket costs associated with compensating interns may produce a strong return-on-investment and "pay-out" over the long run in the form of lower recruiting costs and reduced turnover.

5. Legal Issues

This section will briefly cover the legal ramifications regarding hiring interns and compensation issues. Please note, however, we are not lawyers, and this information does not constitute bona fide legal advice. Therefore it should be used only as a guideline for consulting your own human resources department or general counsel on legal matters.

  • With the exception of less stringent termination and unemployment compensation procedures, the same laws and standards for hiring full-time employees apply to hiring interns.
  • International students are authorized to work in the U.S., once they provide letter confirming the internship placement. The University of Arkansas' International Programs Office will then issue work permission documents that will satisfy 1-9 requirements.
  • Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, you do not have to pay interns who qualify as learners/trainees. The U.S. Department of Labor has outlined six criteria for determining trainee status:
  1. Interns cannot replace regular employees.
  2. Interns are not guaranteed a job with your organization upon completion of the internship.
  3. Both you and the intern are aware that they are not entitled to wages.
  4. Interns must receive training.
  5. Interns must get "hands-on" experience with equipment or processes used in your particular industry.
  6. The skills learned on the job must be considered transferable.
  • To limit exposure to liability, it is generally a good idea to cover interns under your worker's compensation policy even when they are unpaid.
  • While interns are not specified in the language of the law, we strongly recommend that you follow equal opportunity employment laws when recruiting and hiring interns.

An internship should provide training and experience related to a student's academic course of study and career goals. If this is not the case, then the positions are not considered internships and the employer must pay no less than the minimum wage.

6. Recruiting Strategies

The selection and hiring process for interns should be virtually the same as for full-time hires.

  • Determine your selection criteria for candidates.
    • These factors may include academic performance, demonstrated written or quantitative skills, academic major, or specialized skills like foreign language fluency or computer proficiency. If necessary, consider screening applicants by requiring a writing sample or administering an appropriate instrument.
  • Contact the Career Development Center at the University of Arkansas.
    • Provide us with information about your program and specifications for applicants. Let us help you recruit effectively and efficiently.
  • Solicit qualified applicants through the Career Development Center.
    • Conduct on-campus interviews, attend Career Fairs, or request resume referrals from our candidate database.
  • Work through the Career Development Center to build relationships with professors and department heads of appropriate academic disciplines.
Career Center
Walker Hall 226
Fayetteville, AR 72701
PH: (479) 575-6100
FX: (479) 575-4025

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