What You Should Do to Have a Viable (and Legal) Internship Program

© Lucian Milasan - Fotolia.com
© Lucian Milasan - Fotolia.com

With unpaid internship lawsuits popping up left and right, it’s a controversial time for both interns and intern employers everywhere. In fact, many are even sounding the death knell for internships altogether.

One internship program choosing to shut down rather than shape up is magazine publishing powerhouse Condé Nast.

To the shock of many, last month it became the first prestigious internship program to publicly close its doors to interns. The axe fell after the company lost a class-action lawsuit filed by two former interns claiming to have been paid less than $1 per hour during their time with the company.

It would be an understatement to say that killing your internship program in light of bad press is a mistake. Aspiring magazine journalists and students everywhere just lost their chance to gain valuable industry experience and connections as Condé Nast interns.

Condé Nast was using an extensive amount of unpaid interns but not maximizing the value it was getting from its internship program. Learn from Condé Nast’s brutal mistake of cutting out an invaluable recruiting, hiring, and business opportunity by following these tips for what this intern employer should have done instead:

Don’t cut, do an audit

Kissing your internship program goodbye isn’t the most effective strategy.

First, seek out ways to improve your internship program before throwing in the towel altogether. Determine what value-adding projects you can provide to interns, as well as how many full-time employees you plan to hire for the upcoming year. By doing this, you can discover how many valuable interns your company really needs.

Yes, interns can be highly valuable if you create an internship program that not only harnesses their talents, but also values them as potential employees. Research shows paid interns are better for your business — they perform higher quality work and have a higher chance of converting to full-time employees.

Turn the focus to education

Your No. 1 goal for your interns should be giving them an unmatched educational experience.

Forget the plethora of administrative duties and errands — it’s time to refocus. This means providing immersive projects, real-world experience, skills training, and mentorship opportunities.

Give your interns something valuable to add to their portfolio, or challenge them by letting them take the reins on a project. Data shows students care most about getting real world experience and developing professional connections during an internship.

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Budget to pay all your interns

Going from an unpaid to paid internship program can seem challenging, but it all comes back to tapping into your resources.

You don’t have to offer the most competitive intern salaries in your field; you simply have to offer at least the minimum federal wage. If you can’t afford it, strongly consider alternatives, like telecommuting and remote work options, a food and travel stipend, free meals, or a gym membership.

Doing this will give your employer brand added value and trust.

Consider the case of HootSuite, which came under fire earlier this year for failing to pay its interns. To remedy the flood of viral backlash, the Vancouver-based company offered former interns back pay and reviewed its program to comply with the Employment Standards Act of British Columbia. Creating a budget to pay interns showcases a clear dedication to a well-planned, educational internship program that will make you stand out among other employers.

Make a business case for intern impact

Interns matter to companies of all sizes. If you’re not the CEO or hiring manager, work to build a case by highlighting the benefits of your internship program and present it to those in charge. Interns are essential to an organization’s growth by attracting talent at a low-cost, helping for succession planning, and reaching immediate project goals.

Your internship program is more valuable than you think. Don’t follow Condé Nast’s lead by closing the doors to valuable future employees.

Do you think Condé Nast damaged their employer brand by turning away interns?

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