Not that I’m against interns. That would, at minimum, be hypocritical. I had three amazing internships while at the University of Washington (not to mention great mentors at those jobs) that really helped set me up for the work I did next.
But most people think of interns as cheap or free labor (which technically may be true) and expect those interns to quickly add bandwidth and value (which often doesn’t materialize).
So if you’re considering an intern now, this spring or summer, make sure you consider the following before wasting everyone’s time.
1. Interns take more time to manage than you think
They don’t know anything yet, by definition, so will ask a lot of questions. They’ll need more hand-holding than almost anyone else in your organization. Do you have time for that? Is the investment you make in training and educating the intern going to be worth it? The best internship programs still say yes to this question, because the program is as much about the intern (her training and experience) as it is about generating positive ROI for the business. But if you’re hoping for quick & easy results by adding an intern, think again.
2. They will leave unfinished (or abandoned) business
If you hire an intern, choose a project that can be completed in the time they have with you, and that can be run autonomously or without any maintenance or support once they’re gone. Or better yet, have them do something that has incremental value but requires zero work moving forward. If you have the intern start a bunch of social media work, for example, it’s highly likely those efforts will be abandoned when they’re gone. And that’s just going to make you look bad.
3. It’s difficult to evaluate candidates with minimal experience and references
GPAs and test scores don’t count or translate into on-the-job performance. You’re counting here mostly on intuition, interviews and maybe reviews from past internship managers. It can be done, but the margin for error and success rate go way up.
4. They are, by definition, inconsistent and unavailable
If you need them – to get something done, or answer a question – they aren’t there all the time like a typical employee. Interns have classes, other responsibilities, and aren’t trained to watch their phones and email accounts for your messages on a regular basis. Interns do not operate like your other employees. They haven’t been trained to do that yet.
5. Interns will not know your business, industry & customer (& won’t have time to do so sufficiently)
If you hire a regular employee, part of their training will include an indoctrination in your business, how it works, what you sell, etc. You’ll also likely help them understand your customer and industry, so their daily work can be rooted in who (and what) matters. With interns, this kind of investment doesn’t always make sense. But if you don’t have time to do that, they’re that much less likely to be able to naturally (and on their own) make good decisions. Which makes them higher maintenance, too.
This isn’t to say all interns are awful and unproductive, nor that you should abandon existing plans. Just buyer beware.