I was 22 years old and fresh out of college. And after working as an intern at IBM for almost the entire four years I attended school, I was certain I would be hired full-time after graduation. My goal was to get a few more years of experience on my résumé before starting my own company. That didn’t happen. The year was 1990, and IBM had a major hiring freeze. The company’s stock was at its lowest level in decades.
Instead of being a “deer in the headlights,” I looked at the bright side of my situation. I decided to start my company sooner and not waste another minute on lackluster job opportunities. Based on my experience at the time, I saw a need for independent IBM Business Partners to form and distribute end-of-lease refurbished computers and mainframes. Technology was expensive, but small businesses, schools, and other organizations had to take the technology leap in order to survive, even though cost was a major hindrance. IBM-refurbished equipment was an affordable solution for the client with great profit margin for the distributor.
One major obstacle stood before me: how would I build a team? I couldn’t do this alone, and social media didn’t exist at the time. At this moment I realized that I could hire interns. Why not? I was an intern and I loved it. So I purchased the Barron’s Book of Colleges and faxed every school in the U.S. with internship postings across various concentrations. Collegiate career service centers responded in droves. Up to this point, internship opportunities were limited to certain industries and to Fortune 500 companies. However, most schools realized that my idea of small business internships would open up a higher volume of opportunities for their students.
Within six months, our company, Goliath Technology, had 300 students working for us around the country. We were growing faster than any other IBM Business Partner. I maintained this model for 17 years and grew the company into a global IT infrastructure firm, which was sold in 2007.
So why internships?
Hiring interns is a sure-fire method for companies to manage human resource costs, build or supplement a team, support local education, and serve the community. This applies to any size organization—small, medium, or enterprise. You get bright-eyed, motivated students who are willing to learn and possibly seek full-time employment with your company after they graduate. It is ideal for start-ups. Students love ground-floor opportunities, and as an owner you can serve as a leader and a peer at the same time.
Today, I still hire interns across the various projects that I participate in. Even our book project Contagious Optimism is supported by an internship program that allows us to reach cities and towns around the globe along with copyediting, social media, and public relations.
So, are you ready to build your team?
Here are just some of the areas we have found to be ideal for recruiting students:
- Marketing (and guerrilla marketing)
- Public Relations
- Information Technology (data entry, social media, graphic design, web development)
- Social Work
Interns learn so much, and if they prove themselves, they have the potential to be hired full-time. It saves any business owner time and money, because former interns don’t have to be retrained, and they’ll have already learned your culture.
Key points to building a robust internship-hiring campaign:
- Consider the different areas within your organization that need assistance.
- Research local colleges in the regions where you’re willing to hire.
- Draft a program, similar to a curriculum, that outlines the duties and responsibilities of the interns for each role you wish to fill.
- Establish a payment plan for interns and budget accordingly (Note: Make sure the school permits interns to be paid. Many schools do not permit pay if the student is also receiving college credit). We suggest between $200 to $300 per month plus reimbursement of any out-of-pocket expenses (if applicable), depending on their role and the hours they can commit. Keep in mind that most interns are eligible for college credit depending on the internship guidelines at their school. If the student is eligible for credit, most schools will require a minimum of 12–15 hours per week.
You can also offer unpaid internships. In that case, your only costs will be the reimbursement for any out-of-pocket expenses (if applicable). However, the better talent will prefer compensation.
- Look beyond the current need. Interns that perform and successfully meet your needs are ripe for full-time employment post-graduation.
- To retain the best talent, give your interns real projects and make them feel valuable. It is rewarding to see interns participate in company roundtable meetings. They feel empowered when they can speak to the team and provide input. The same applies when they can interact with clients as well.
- Last, you can offer remote-based internships where the student can work from their dorm or apartment, depending on the role.
“Offering internships to college graduates is a very effective way for a company to develop its work force,” said David Lewis, president and founder of OperationsInc, a human resources firm in Stamford, Connecticut. “Every business should seriously consider it because that is your minor league system where you can create the future employees of your organization at a low-cost, low-risk situation. This the toe-in-the-water approach.”
In summary, hiring interns is one of the best ways to grow your company, manage market share, and get involved in the local community all at the same time. The altruism and civic-minded nature are beyond what most human resource people realize. Remember that hiring interns not only helps your company’s bottom-line but it also allows you to provide students and recent graduates with an arsenal of experience, confidence, and career-building skills. Let’s face it: being on the frontline for these interns is the #1 attribute on their resume. Nothing says “experience” more than actual experience.