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Should you be employing interns?

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Interns are too much of a gamble. They drain your time, and they could be a liability. And yes, they cost. While there is some truth to these thoughts, the flip side can be far more positive.

We are talking here about enthusiastic people, eager to learn and please. Like a young business, they can evolve quickly.

Time investment

Let’s remember that interns are not slave labour. If all you want is a cheap administrator, you are barking up the wrong tree. These young people are often experiencing their introduction to the workplace with you and your company. Preying on their innocence is unethical, and is a disservice at a time of great change in a person’s life. And shrewd candidates will walk if you try to exploit them.

Yes, you can assign interns tasks that will help streamline your business operation, and these may well be dull exercises, but far more important is a project that will produce tangible results. Interns join companies to learn, and they want to see the fruit of their labour.

All this talk of projects and outcomes sounds time-intensive. It certainly requires some effort, but for a prospective leader, it is great training. Young, high-potential employees already in the company need to show their capacity for structuring tasks, educating, and communicating effectively. Perhaps the most important skill to be gleaned is time management – not only of their own commitments, but also, in the case of interns, those of others.

A liability?

Start-ups are tight-knit teams, in many ways more a family than an association of professionals. The company culture is the product of this team, and is, as such, embodied by it.

Dave Goldberg, founder of Survey Monkey, speaks with absolute conviction on this topic. Whereas an experienced employee may have the skills, if they don’t reflect and contribute to the company’s “soul”, they will never perform to their full potential.

Interns, unburdened by the cynicism that management hierarchies and professional politics can breed, can absorb a company’s characteristics more readily than seasoned workers. With their nascent talent, this often makes them promising candidates for longer-term employment.

Sometimes, it does not work out this way. Have no qualms about firing the wrong person. Your team will be burdened by a poor addition, and nobody wants needlessly to suffer a depressing summer or other chunk of the year in the company of a no-hoper.

Ambitious young people will find you. Although there are agencies galore out there promising to find the perfect company-intern match, nothing trumps the readiness of a person who makes the first move.

Some will find you as their curiosity leads them down avenues of interest. However, relying on chance is a risk that even seasoned risk-takers should avoid. The solution is your own source of talent.

As in all branding efforts, this means making your business distinctive. It should be a portal of expertise, a nexus of knowledge, a symbol of innovation. In giving presentations at universities, attending careers fairs, or even just advertising internships on your website’s jobs page, prospective interns identify with your message, and are inspired to make their introduction.

If you want somebody to make the tea and staple pieces of paper, place an advert with these duties in the job description. Interns are worth more than this. In completing basic tasks, they show their aptitude for greater challenges, and may even end up being your most cost-effective recruitment strategy.

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