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Published: Jun 13, 2023 13 min read
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Finding interns to fit your specific business needs doesn't have to be a daunting task. The key to hiring a successful intern is to define your requirements, understand how to source quality candidates and discern if they're a good fit for your company.

Using specific strategies will provide you insight into the hiring process — from writing a great job description to posting on a job search site like ZipRecruiter — helping you find the right intern for your company.

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What is an intern?

Interns accept temporary positions with little or no compensation in return for hands-on training, mentorship and practical work. They're typically students or those early in their careers who are looking to gain job experience.

Internships help students decide whether their desired career path is right for them, as it allows them to gain direct exposure to whatever industry they're entering.

It's important to decide what kind of intern you're looking for. Candidates not enrolled in school can be a great fit for internships that function more as training programs before transitioning into an official position. Interns still in school may not have flexible schedules and typically require a more structured plan as required by their school.

How to find interns

Finding quality interns that are willing to work hard for low compensation can be difficult, especially when you're competing with other companies. That's why it's essential to understand the best avenues to find great candidates for internships.

Post on job boards

If you don't want to expend your resources reaching out to people individually, the easiest option to attract talent is to use various job boards like ZipRecruiter, which let you post to over 100 boards with one click. These platforms have a large user base and therefore will have better reach than your own career page. It may also be a cheaper option than paying a headhunting agency or spending valuable employee time at career fairs.

On the other hand, this is an impersonal approach to hiring interns. There are many other companies using the same strategy, so it might be difficult to make your company stand out. It's also much harder to gauge the competency of the candidate when you outsource the hiring process.

Research the best job posting sites for employers to find the platform that's best for you.

Advertise the opportunity on your company's career page

The most cost-effective way to share an internship job posting is to add it to your company's career page. It may only be seen by candidates actively seeking out a position at your company, but using this method gives you more control over the process. Using third-party platforms means relinquishing control, but using your own allows you to customize the job posting, screening questions and application requirements.

It's also important to know how to create a better career page than your competitors. Making the site easy to navigate and visually appealing will increase the chances of candidates completing the application.

Post about it on social media

Ideal for companies with an established following, posting internship opportunities on your social media is an ideal way to spread the word. The most effective strategy would be to use your social media as an advertisement funneling applicants to your career page posting. There is also a higher potential the posting will be shared outside your follower base, which would expand your overall reach.

Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or anywhere else you have built a following are great places to start your search. Professional networking platforms such as LinkedIn can double as a job posting site as well as a social media platform. These are great platforms to promote job postings because they give you direct access to your target audience.

Check local colleges for internship programs

Many local and state colleges have established internship programs with companies. These partnerships provide a pipeline of qualified candidates to the companies, while also providing valuable opportunities to their students. Working closely with these schools may increase your chances of finding candidates that have the right experience and skill set to succeed.

Building a pipeline of interns and thus long-term employees in this manner also builds a strong culture within your company. Having a team of employees from the same schools is more conducive to building camaraderie and trust among team members, which are qualities that are critical to success.

Attend local job fairs

By setting up a booth at a local job fair, you give yourself the best opportunity to sell yourself to prospective candidates. When you post positions online, you have to rely on the power of your job description to persuade candidates to apply. In-person meetings let you more accurately gauge the fit of a candidate.

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Intern hiring process

Once you have established a pool of applicants using these methods, it is equally important to understand best practices for the intern hiring process.

Screening applicants

It would be extremely inefficient to interview every single person that applies for your internship, which is why it's necessary to screen for the best candidates. Using the best recruiting software in combination with understanding best practices for using an ATS (applicant tracking system) is essential to making the process as automated as possible. The best background check sites can also be useful in weeding out candidates with an incompatible history.

In addition to using these tools, you should be sure to establish a predetermined checklist of required and preferred qualifications such as specific hard skills, work experience and values that align with your company.

The interview process

After screening through the initial applicant pool, you can start setting up interviews with the candidates. These interviews will give you an opportunity to gauge the qualifications you are looking for, while also giving more information about the position and the company to each candidate.

It is important to screen for the required technical skills in the interview, but it is equally important to ask behavioral interview questions that can help determine if the candidate is a good cultural fit in the company.

The answers to the behavioral questions may also help in choosing between two great candidates who have similar technical skills.

Ensuring a successful internship

Now that you've successfully navigated the process of finding and hiring interns, it's your responsibility to set them up for success within the company. Besides providing them with the tools and resources they need, make sure they're comfortable and feel like a valuable asset to the team.

Interns can sometimes feel like they are not official team members, so it's important to express gratitude toward interns just as you would if they were full-time employees.

In addition, if you are successful in hiring the most qualified interns, they will most likely work hard to exceed your expectations. Although hard work is a valuable asset in an intern, it can also lead to reduced productivity if overworked. This is why it's important that you know how to spot employee burnout and take proactive steps to address and support the employee to keep production optimized.

Why do companies hire interns?

There are many reasons to hire interns beyond cheap labor. Providing opportunities to students, finding extra help and building a pipeline of future employees are a few of the reasons that make internships valuable for both parties.

Providing valuable work experience to students

The primary reason internships exist is to give practical experience to students who aren’t yet qualified for entry-level positions. Students have the opportunity to gain on-the-job exposure and training that will help them find long-term positions in the future.

Getting extra help around the office

The companies themselves are incentivized to provide these opportunities to students because they receive labor at a cheaper rate than hiring full-time employees. Although these interns may be limited in what they can accomplish, there are plenty of things to do around the office that benefit the company and build the intern's skills at the same time. And even though they may be cheaper, it's still essential to ensure interns receive just compensation for their work.

Building connections

The most synergistic benefit of internships to both the company and the intern is the potential for the intern to transition into a long-term role within the company. By participating in an internship, the intern builds the skills and experience necessary to succeed at the company, while learning whether or not it’s a good fit. From the company’s perspective, hiring a candidate that has already been trained and proved to be a cultural fit is more valuable than starting the process over again with a new employee.

Types of internships

Although each individual internship will vary from company to company, there are only two categories of internships: paid and unpaid. There are certain subtypes within each category, such as summer internships, winter internships and co-ops. But whether they are paid or unpaid is the primary differentiator.

Paid internships

Internships that offer legitimate compensation are an excellent way to entice potential quality candidates. However, paid interns should also expect more work than their unpaid counterparts, which may include responsibilities that are not particularly satisfying.

A subtype of paid internships that differs from summer internships is the co-op. This is a typically paid internship position where students alternate between school semesters and work until they obtain a minimum number of working hours to complete their school assignment requirements. These internships are more common among hands-on industries such as construction or engineering.

Most importantly, offering proper compensation is the best way to attract the best candidates. Many people can't afford to work without pay, so you'd miss out on some of the brightest, most hard-working people who have to look elsewhere for an internship.

Unpaid internships

Candidates who choose to participate in an unpaid internship acknowledge they're in it solely for the experience. Many reputable companies offer unpaid internships, and completing them can be a huge resume boost for candidates. However, these are less likely to have a diverse applicant field because many intelligent, well-deserving students can't afford to work for free. Keep this in mind when deciding whether to offer compensation or not for your internship.

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When to hire an intern

If you're looking for current students to mold into potential employees of the future, the best strategy is to offer summer internships when they are not in school. If the internships are more of a talent-building pipeline regardless of age or experience, you can offer internships year-round because the candidates might not even be in school.

However, even though you may have the capacity to hire an intern doesn't mean that you should. Hiring interns without proper planning can result in a waste of time for the intern, as well as a waste of resources for your company.

Summary of Money's steps to find qualified interns

The process of finding and hiring interns is a matter of identifying the qualities you need and then optimizing your search. Make sure your job posting is listed across social media, sites like Ziprecruiter and, of course, your own career page. Leverage in-person events such as job fairs and internship programs to reduce the friction of the process. Make sure to screen for the predetermined skills and values during the interview process to ensure technical and cultural fit.

But most importantly, create an internship that maximizes time for both the intern and yourself with the potential to welcome future opportunities on both sides.

For those who are looking to understand the process of finding interns from an employer's perspective so you may be more successful in the process yourself, you might be ready to find full-time jobs near you.