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Four Things Every Employer Should Know Before Hiring Interns

hiring internsIt may be months before April showers give way to May flowers, but right now is actually the perfect time to start thinking about your spring interns. It won’t be long before the best and brightest students start planning out their spring semester work schedules; therefore, fall is a great time for you, as an employer, to start looking for the future generation of talent ready to flood your industry.

So what do you need to know in order to hire the best interns and avoid legal trouble? Here are the four essentials to brush up on before you start recruiting your warm weather hires:

Know the Current Internship Situation

Unfortunately, not everything is sunshine and smiles when it comes to intern hiring. For years, the unpaid internship went unquestioned by both students and employers, particularly during the recent economic collapse. Lately, however, unpaid internships have come under scrutiny thanks to several recent high profile lawsuits, including suits against magazine publisher Hearst and Saturday Night Live parent company NBC Universal. There are even dedicated websites for unpaid interns who feel they’ve been exploited by their employer.

Though some students don’t mind (or don’t seek out) unpaid positions, many see unpaid internships as an abuse of power. Most employers want to help interns gain new skills, but they also want to see some value for their investment in an internship program. It’s a tough time for both students and employers to know what the regulations are when it comes to hiring great interns and staying legally compliant.

Hiring Interns: Know the Legal Guidelines

Many companies, from big corporations to small startups, have gotten in trouble with the law because they ignore the rules concerning internships. You can never go wrong with a paid internship, and it’s usually a good idea to pay interns for their time and effort. If you’re considering walking down the unpaid internship path, there are some important rules to keep in mind to stay out of legal trouble.

The most essential thing to know is that all unpaid internships should offer some form of educational advancement or on-the-job training. If possible, it’s a good idea for unpaid internships to offer course credit so students are still receiving something tangible out of their intern arrangement. If not, employers should be extremely careful about the ways in which they use interns.

Under legal guidelines, the employer should be gaining no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; the internship should be focused primarily on training and learning. In short, using your unpaid intern to do the work of a paid employee is the best way to get into legal hot water. Look at your internships as a training program for future talent, not extra labor.

Know the Purpose of Your Internship Program

The best way to avoid legal troubles and to get the most value out of your interns is to clearly define the purpose of your internship program. It might mean a little extra work for your company, but sit down and think about what you’d like to teach your interns.

The internship is a great opportunity to foster and develop the future talent of your industry. It should also be an educational experience for the interns at your company. They should be doing more than making copies and fetching coffee – no matter how important you think your morning latte is to success.

Before beginning your spring intern search, write down a list of job responsibilities and on-the-job skills your intern will acquire as a result of carrying out these responsibilities. Writing out a list and clarifying the purpose of your internship program will not only make for a better experience for your intern, it will also help you find candidates with the right personality and skill sets for the job.

Know the Attributes of the Best Intern Candidates

Now that you’ve outlined the purpose of your internship,it’s time to find the best and brightest people for your intern positions. You’ll likely have a high volume of candidates, as spring interns look to pad their resumes with professional experience before graduation, so have a good idea of the kind of intern you’re looking for.

A great way to cut down on the time-consuming interview process is to get a personal feel for candidates earlier in the hiring process. Hiring an intern isn’t the same as hiring a full-time employee. With an intern, you’re looking for a good cultural fit above a specific skill set. The internship will help these candidates acquire and develop skills, but if they’re a bad cultural fit it’s likely to be a negative experience for both you and the candidate.

Connecting personally earlier in the hiring process will allow you to focus in on only the best fitting candidates. You can leverage technology such as social media or video interviews to get a better feel for candidates before sitting down with them in a formal interview.

For instance, in a one-way video interview, candidates record video answers to your written questions. So, if someone is wrong for the job, you can immediately move on. While looking through social media profiles or video interview answers, you’ll want to look for candidates who have a true and sincere passion for the job or industry. Those will be the candidates willing to give and get the most out of your internships.

Hiring great interns isn’t easy. But if you start early, know the rules and put a strategy in place, hiring top-notch interns will be that much easier – and rewarding for both you and the intern.

Tell us: What else is essential to know before hiring spring interns?

JoshTolanAbout the Author: Josh Tolan is the CEO of Spark Hire, a video powered hiring network that connects job seekers and employers through video resumes and online interviews. Connect with him and Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter.

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