What exactly is a virtual internship, and how can it benefit employers?

Sometimes referred to as “telecommuting” or “offsite work,” a virtual internship is when an intern works remotely… as in anywhere other than your office.

Students are attracted to virtual internships because they allow them to gain experience without commuting, committing 40 hours a week, or considering physical proximity of jobs. However, the advantages of this buzzed-about hiring trend are equally as alluring for employers:

  • Larger applicant pool. Hiring virtual interns allows you an almost endless choice of candidates. No longer are employers limited to only those interns who live nearby or—in the case of unpaid internships—to those who can afford to work for free.
  • Workers only when needed. For small businesses who wonder whether they have enough work to support a fulltime internship program, a virtual internship makes it easy to utilize interns on a per-project basis.

As long as you guarantee an intern a certain number of hours per week, month, or semester, you can assign projects to be completed remotely as they arise, without worrying about creating work when things slow down… and an eager intern is standing in front of you.

  • Space and equipment savings. Since virtual interns don’t work at your office, you don’t have to allocate additional workspace.

Furthermore, virtual interns are expected to have their own computer and Internet connection, basic office equipment, and standard supplies. So while it may seem miniscule to consider paperclip costs when assessing an internship arrangement, eliminating larger items—think furniture, paper, and printing expenses—can add up to significant savings.

  • Payroll pare down. Speaking of savings, in some cases, virtual internships can nearly eliminate the number of unproductive, paid hours of work.

Assuming your organization implements a solid system for tracking hours worked remotely, offsite work can actually maximize productivity. The reason is that, when an employee is onsite for an entire day, a certain percentage of time will often be spent socializing or doing other less-constructive activities to mentally recharge. Yet the timeclock ticks on.

On the other hand, remote workers are taught to bill their time in blocks and to log in and out when they take breaks or switch gears. Therefore, the result can be far fewer hours billed for the same amount of actual work.

  • Interruption reduction. If you have a small staff, hiring remote interns means you won’t have to overwhelm one employee with the task of training or supervising an intern 40 hours a week… or with an intern having unlimited access to assistance.

When interns are offsite, it is the supervisor’s choice when to respond to questions or requests for instruction. For instance, the staff member can address questions in a single email or phone call at their convenience, as opposed to having an intern pop into their office at will.

Wait… there’s more! Learn about two of the most important employer advantages: See Working with Busy School-Year Interns Part I: 7 Reasons to Consider the Virtual Internship for additional information on how telecommuting internships can help employers make the most of busy school-year interns.

August 27, 2010 at 8:56 am Leave a comment

Guest Post: How Can a Small Business Owner Create an Internship Program?

Michael O’Donnell is entering his senior year as a Marketing major at Penn State University. He is doing an internet marketing internship with http://www.internprofits.com. Small business owners or entrepreneurs are encouraged to visit the site to see all of the things an intern can do for your business.

If you are a small business owner and you want to get an intern, then you are already on the right track to growing and expanding your business. Unlike larger, more established businesses, small business owners don’t have a human resources department that can help create an internship program. To further complicate the matter, most small business owners are so busy that they don’t think they have the time to manage an intern even if they got one.

Internships come in many different forms, but there are certain steps that everyone must take to ensure that the internship is a valuable experience for both the employer and the student. In this article, we are going to cover the legal issues surrounding internships, how to effectively structure the internship program, and some quick tips on how to mentor and manage an intern.

Before you start hiring interns, you are going to want to seek the advice of your attorney to make sure the internship opportunity is in accordance with the Department of Labor’s (DOL) regulations. The DOL outlines the legal requirements for compensation that distinguishes between an intern and an employee. If you plan on hiring interns for paid positions, then you shouldn’t have too much to worry about with legal issues. However, if you plan on hiring interns for unpaid positions or offering to help them receive academic credit, then you need to be extremely careful when designing the internship. The debate about unpaid internships is currently a very hot topic, so you should always consult your legal representative before you create an internship program.

Once the legal requirements are out of the way, you can create an internship program. One of the biggest things colleges look for when approving employers to offer internships is honesty in the job description. Many small business owners try to get an intern to help relieve them of some of their busy work, like filing or organizing mail. Most colleges will instantly deny a request like this because they want their students to get real world experience related to their major.

A good rule for employers to follow is to have the intern spend no less than 75% of their time working on real projects. If you don’t have a ton of work for the intern on a particular day, you can always let the intern sit in on meetings and conferences.  This may sound trivial to you, but it can be a major learning experience for the intern.

Structuring your internship to be learning based will be mutually beneficial to both you and the intern. You get an intern to help you on your projects and an extra set of ears in case you miss anything from meetings. At the same time, the intern gets to work on real projects and gain professional experience.

One of the top reasons that small business owners say they don’t hire interns is because they don’t think they have enough time to manage an intern. However, the amount of productivity that an intern can bring to a small business is worth the time to get an intern. By giving feedback and guiding the intern in the right direction, you can make sure that you are receiving high quality work.

Many companies hire interns with the end goal that when they graduate they will be able to be promoted to a full time position. By being a good mentor, you can establish a professional relationship with the intern and understand their capabilities better than you ever could through an interview.

August 24, 2010 at 11:47 am Leave a comment

We’re hiring fall interns — what are the key tips for interviewing interns?

Just like hiring fulltime staff members, there are methods for making the most of the intern interview as well. Some tips stem from traditional interviewing principles, while others are specific to interviewing interns:

  • Identify the three primary position-specific skills and direct questions toward these qualifications. Abandon the old, “What do you consider your three greatest strengths?” Instead, tailor questions toward determining whether the intern possesses the specific skills necessary to succeed in the position.

To do so, you must first clearly identify these traits or talents. So it’s worth a short brainstorming session with the parties involved in your internship program. Decide on your top three picks; then format questions to assess intern capabilities in each area.

  • Ask open-ended questions. The open-ended question is intended to solicit additional information and spark conversation. Therefore, in the intern arena, where work experience is likely to be limited, you have to weight personality and willingness to learn more heavily. The open-ended question gives you a closer look at how the intern interacts and thinks about things.

  • Ask for details and examples… but stress they need not be career based. As when interviewing fulltime employees, you want to ask for specific examples to back up claims of skills or experience.

For example, if the intern asserts that he or she is an excellent problem solver, you might ask for an example of a situation in which they devised a successful solution. Essentially, for any claim, think in terms of, “How do you know?” And when applicable, let facts (and especially figures!) speak louder than a candidate’s own opinion of competency.

However, keep in mind one caveat: When asking for examples, emphasize that they need not be based on job performance. Many students won’t have professional work experience; so stress that their evidence can come from real-world or education-based examples.

  • Don’t leave with lingering questions. If an intern says something interesting—or that raises a red flag—dig deeper for more information. For example, if you find yourself wondering, “What does that mean?” or, “Why would she say that?” follow up.

This will help you avoid making incorrect assumptions that might lead to a mis-hire or overlooking an intern who could be a real asset. Remember, most of the time, you can’t get a complete answer in a single inquiry.

  • Ask about personal interests and leisure time. Again, because of the lack of professional experience, intern interviews depend more on assessing personality and transferrable skills.

Therefore, learning what an intern is interested in will help you round out their personality profile. And abilities gained through hobbies and volunteer work can be extremely valuable. Questions might include, “What leisure activities are you most passionate about?” or, “What do you lose yourself in?”

Stay tuned for additional intern interview tips in an upcoming post!

August 17, 2010 at 2:17 pm Leave a comment

Tips for Intern References

As an employer, one of your responsibilities is to write references not only for your employees but also for your interns. References for interns work different ways. Some schools provide you with a reference form, so all you have to do is fill in the blanks. Other schools let it up to you to produce a reference, which means that your company or HR department can generate its own intern reference form. Or you may prefer to write an individual letter for each intern. Also, you can combine the two—a completed evaluation form for the intern accompanied by a customized letter from the internship supervisor.

Whatever form you choose, there are a few guidelines. First, it’s most impressive to write a letter on company letterhead. If the student has performed exceptionally well in the internship, you might want to give your cell phone number or email address, enabling a potential internship supervisor to call you to check references for your former intern.

But if an intern has performed below expectations, then you have a dilemma. You might not want to mention the negative aspects because the student could have been experiencing personal problems. A bad reference at this early point in a young person’s career could have long-term ramifications. You might want to use discretion and search for something positive to say about the intern’s role in the company. However, if a friend is considering taking on your former intern and wants your honest opinion, you could indicate that you had some issues. In this case, you’ll feel better in being honest rather than misleading your friend.

Multiple references can work if a student intern has rotated throughout the company. Different department heads might like to write references, giving a broader picture of the intern’s achievements. Encourage your employees to finish their reference letters before the student leaves the internship, ensuring that he/she receives proper credit in a timely manner.

August 12, 2010 at 4:44 pm Leave a comment

As a small business, how can we make sure we meet the right candidates out of all our internship applicants?

Too many qualified candidates is much better than a lack of interested interns! And in the current economy, this has become common, especially if your position pays.

Luckily, if you know what to look for in intern applications and resumes—and how to decipher certain signs—you can significantly increase your odds of meeting the best matches.

Use the following criteria to help signify an interview-worthy intern:

  • Applicable education. Meet students whose major and/or classes are specifically relevant to your organization. Because when an intern’s academic emphasis relates to your industry, he or she will bring a broader base of knowledge.

    More importantly, you’ll benefit from an intern with a sincere interest in your field. And output-wise, a student with a passion is always preferable to one simply seeking a paycheck or padded resume.

  • Original objective. When reviewing student submissions, look to meet candidates who have taken the time to write an original objective… as opposed to simply copying a standard opening.

    This says the student has put thought into what they want out of the experience and what they have to offer an organization. It also shows motivation. Expending the energy to write something original demonstrates drive and diligence that tends to translate into a stronger work ethic.

  • Other-focused objective. Sure, literally speaking, an objective is what a student seeks to gain from an internship program. But in truth, savvy students understand that employers are interested in what the candidate brings to the equation as well.

    An objective that includes a self- and other-focused statement shows you the student perceives the internship as a two-way street—where both parties benefit.

  • Customized Personal Message. On the Internships.com application, the “Personal Message” option is akin to a cover letter. As such, it gives candidates—who choose to take advantage—another opportunity to show off their skills and connect with a company on a more personal level.

    When evaluating interns, this demonstrates that a student is motivated enough to go the extra mile. It also tells you the student is genuinely interested in your particular position—as opposed to haphazardly applying to every opportunity. Hire this intern, and you’re likely to get a grateful employee who’s happy to work hard.

  • Good grammar and absence of errors. Errors are telling in two ways: First of all, a student who submits an application with mistakes may not have the written skills to complete projects at the professional level.

    Secondly, obvious errors are a sign the intern didn’t take time to proofread. As an employer, you likely value meticulousness and attention to detail; therefore, weeding out applicants who don’t bother to read their own resume is an easy way to avoid slackers.

August 11, 2010 at 9:27 am Leave a comment

Q. I’m confused by all the news articles focusing on the legal issues regarding internships. How can I find out what our company can do or not do in accordance with the law?

by the Intern Coach

A. Excellent question!  Since so many students want internships and hundreds of companies are starting internship programs, the ground rules have been constantly changing. In the past, schools managed all the internship programs for their students, utilizing the same companies every year. Thanks to the growing number of online internship sites, such as internships.com, students have a far wider selection. As an employer, you are faced with figuring out what applies to you. Here are some tips to help you: 

  • Every day, a new challenge arises to question the legal status of internship programs. The sources that you might want to pay strict attention to (and those that will probably be paying strict attention to you) involve pronouncements by state or federal governments. Each state seems to be issuing different regulations or rules governing internships. Review what your state is doing and see if your program is in compliance. Also, monitor the federal legislation that is studying the internship situation.
  • Confer with your legal department or company lawyer on the legal issues surrounding internships. You may find that your legal expert will err on the side of conservatism in terms of meeting regulations in order to protect you and your company. You’ll probably want to act accordingly. If in doubt about paid or non-paid internships or credit or no credit, you could appoint a committee to review all the legislation and discussion and make a recommendation on how your company should proceed.
  • Compare notes on internship programs with other companies that are similar to yours, such as public or private, small or large, domestic or international, etc. Find out if they’ve run into any problems and if so, how they’ve solved them. You could also meet with the college career centers that send you interns and determine their requirements for your company before you agree to accept any interns.
  • For further protection, you might ask interns to sign off that they understand and accept the conditions of the internship before they begin one at your company. Do remember that internships are win-win situations for companies and students, so don’t be put off by the confusing news articles on internships.

August 3, 2010 at 11:33 am Leave a comment

Q. When I told our interns that they were under dressing for work, they blamed the hot summer weather for their scanty outfits. What should I do?

by the Intern Coach

A. It’s true that this is the hottest summer in recorded US weather history, but that doesn’t excuse their inappropriate appearance. The Baltimore Sun recently published an article about your problem. Here are a few tips from that piece: 

  • You’re not alone. In Washington, DC, where they’ve never quite forgotten Monica Lewinsky, a name has evolved for the scantily-clad summer staff:  “skinterns.”  A vice president of human resources, who hires 80 interns a year, says she “nips the problem in the bud with an up-front discussion about standards and expectations.” It’s not that they come in and look sloppy, but they’re showing up in bar clothes. She wants them to represent the company name with integrity and professionalism.
  • In a recent episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” called “The Bare Midriff,” Larry David is disgruntled that his new secretary is wearing a shirt that exposes her tummy. When he confronts her, she says she’s proud of her body and wants to flaunt it. His reply:  “You can flaunt two-thirds of the day outside the office and then you have one-third non-flaunt,” her tells her. “Why not take a break in the flaunt?”
  • One HR Director sends female employees/interns home to change if their dress is inappropriate. Another option is to keep a supply of t-shirts readily available, so an intern can cover up, presenting a more modest appearance. If an intern receives several warnings and still doesn’t arrive in proper office attire, the internship for that student is terminated, according to the HR Director.
  • You could also call the students’ career centers and discuss the issue with the staff. Then, a staff member could reinforce to the intern that wearing booty shorts, cleavage-baring tops, or see-through skirts to the office is inappropriate, regardless of the temperature. You could suggest that the school follow the lead of many universities and offer a one-credit elective course on professional skills for business, clarifying dress issues.
  • Emphasize to your interns that you want them to put their best foot forward when they meet clients and customers because they reflect your company. Rather than scold the interns, offer them a list of acceptable clothing standards for the company. Remind them to take a better-safe-than-sorry approach, erring on the conservative side. They may even thank you.

July 27, 2010 at 11:29 am Leave a comment

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About this blog

This blog is dedicated to employers with a focus on how to hire and manage interns effectively. We will have a variety of experts who will share helpful ideas, tips and more. We invite you to comment, ask questions and share your experiences. You are also welcome to submit written contributions to this blog.

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