Ways Employers Can Make Unpaid Internships Worthwhile

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Unpaid interns may often feel exploited. Sure they’re getting experience, credit, their foot in the door or whatever other higher education cliches are in vogue. And even as cliches, these do represent assets to college students as they build their respective portfolios and amass relevant real world experiences. But as the business offering the internship, there are several things employers can do to make interns feel as though their time is well-spent and appreciated.

Start an Incentive Program

Encourage competition among interns by creating a healthy, competitive environment. There are a number of ways to accomplish this, such as inviting full-time staff to vote for an “Intern of the Month”. This will encourage interns to socialize with coworkers and strive to be rewarded. Recognize the intern of the month in your company newsletter or weekly email update. If possible, write a post on your company’s website about an extraordinary task accomplished by an intern. This shows interns that their hard work is appreciated. It also provides the intern with an excellent line for his or her resume.

Also consider implementing the following incentive plans:

Establish an Open Door Policy

  • Free lunch on Friday for an exceptional intern
  • Each week invite an intern to sit in on an important meeting
  • Arrange a meet and greet between interns and upper management

Let interns know from day one that you are always there to answer whatever questions arise, and be prepared to address any complaints or grievances. Always give straight and direct answers to questions so that interns do not feel as if they are being given the runaround. Establishing a rapport and building a trusting relationship with interns will undoubtedly make them feel as if intern opinions matter. When conversing with each intern (or any staff member), be careful about the tone you use. Never use sarcasm or condescending remarks.

Be Respectful

In any office environment, lower-level staff are often required to do a majority of the grunt work. Though interns are not afforded all of the same privileges as other staff members, they are not to be treated like second-class citizens. Answering phones and filing paperwork are often a part of the paying-your-dues work of an intern, but being mistreated while performing these tasks is not. Be sure to learn the names of all the interns. Say “please” and “thank you” to them. Shake their hands. When they complete a task satisfactorily, praise them. The affect of praise on all employees is consistently undersold. Appreciate all staff from interns all the way to the top. The loyalty you’ll foster is worth more than you realize.

Be an Exceptional Mentor

Set aside at least fifteen minutes per week to meet with your interns. During this designated time, explain the week’s tasks and be prepared to answer questions. If possible, allow interns to sit in on staff meetings. This will make them feel like part of the team and will hopefully encourage them to speak up and give suggestions. Interns might not have all the answers but they do offer a chance at new perspective.

Pair each intern with a senior faculty member so that he or she has someone to report to for any assignments you give. This will help things run more smoothly. It will also allow each intern to feel as if she has someone to seek out for advice or help.

If possible, organize a professionalization forum for interns. Designate one or two senior faculty members as key speakers for the event. Consider organizing ten minute talks on each of the following:

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