Internships have had a bad press recently. The tragic death of Moritz Erhardt, who was completing an internship at top City bank Merrill Lynch, has made many companies think twice about hiring an intern. Similarly, stories in the media of long hours, menial tasks and poor pay have made young people wary of offering their services.

However, internships can be beneficial – especially for small businesses. Here are some points to consider before you decide to hire an intern.

Reasons to Hire an Intern

  • Hiring an intern is a great way of cutting recruitment costs for low-level positions. Many young people have incredible potential waiting to be unlocked, but are barred from full-time jobs because they don’t have relevant work experience. Taking on an intern allows you to “try before you buy”, bypassing traditional and expensive recruitment methods. Many companies go on to offer their interns a full-time position – and often these candidates would never have got through a regular recruitment process.
  • It can help people out of unemployment. Internships are often the only way for young people to get into the job market – especially in the current economic climate. They provide young candidates with key skills and work experience to put on their CVs, which in turn will help them to land a full-time job. Giving someone a helping hand early on in their career can lead to positive PR for your company –interns are usually social-media savvy.
  • Hiring an inexperienced intern provides them with invaluable work experience. However, it can also benefit your current employees. Tasking a lower-level employee with looking after your interns will help them to develop their managerial skills – far cheaper than sending them off to do a training course.

Reasons to be Cautious

  • It’s expensive. Many companies offer unpaid internships, which is immoral – and in most cases, illegal. There have been several high-profile lawsuits filed against top businesses by former interns – companies such as Condé Nast, Fox Searchlight Productions and Donna Karan International have all been successfully sued. You must make sure you know the law regarding interns, and pay them appropriately – be sure you can afford to take someone on before you advertise the position.
  •  It can give you bad press. As mentioned above, the younger generation is incredibly social-media savvy – but this may not always work in your favour. If an intern has a bad experience with your company, they’re likely to be vocal about it. Make sure you actually have a structured program of work in place – spending two weeks photocopying and making coffee is a waste of time both for your business and the intern, and could lead to a backlash.
  • It takes time to source the right candidate. Your intern may not have much experience, but you still need them to be capable. Although the recruitment process for hiring an intern doesn’t need to be as rigorous as hiring a full-time employee, it can still be costly and time-consuming.

Hiring an intern is often a good idea – especially for small businesses. Interns can provide much-needed support during busy periods, and internships can often be used to replace traditional recruitment processes.  However, before you take the plunge, be sure to consider whether you have the time and resources necessary to get the most out of your intern.