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Internships & HR - What You Need in Place


July 30 2013 - When managed with transparency and care, business internships create a win-win situation. Properly managed interns gain confidence and priceless work experience, and the advantages of taking on a good intern are innumerable. Managed badly, however, internships can be a pointless and demoralising exercise for the intern and costly for the employer. Here are a few tips for internship success.

Put Them First

An intern does not equal free labour. However, the rules surrounding payment of interns are open to some interpretation, so tread very carefully and if in doubt, remunerate them. In short, not all unpaid internships are legal. Recent US rulings on internships state the rules of thumb surrounding unpaid internships:

  • Internships should be primarily for the benefit of the intern and not the employer
  • Interns should not be used to replace paid staff members
  • Interns cannot expect or be promised a job at the end of the placement
Don't Get Sued

Fox Searchlight interns Alex Footman and Eric Glatt successfully sued the film production company in 2011 for unpaid work carried out on the set of the Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan. A judge ruled that the work undertaken was of direct benefit to the employer, and as such, Searchlight had broken every rule in the book (see above) regarding unpaid internships. Footman and Glatt had worked five-day, forty-hour weeks during their placements on the movie set. Their jobs revolved around coffee runs, general cleaning and emptying bins. On being awarded compensation from Fox searchlight, a triumphant Glatt remarked, 'I hope that this sends a very loud and clear message to employers and to students doing these internships... for most for-profit employers, this is illegal. It shouldn't be up to the least powerful person in the arrangement to have to bring a lawsuit to stop this.'

Make It Productive and Positive

Make sure the placement - whatever its duration - is structured and planned to include a variety of valuable experiences. Move your intern around departments on a rotation schedule and use your HR software programs to record all the details of their placement, from rotation dates to training given. There's nothing worse for an intern than arriving bright and early on a Monday morning to be greeted with all-round looks of faint bemusement, so make sure details of the placement are shared (best achieved through your HR software) with all team members. All jobs involve some admin tasks and all interns should expect to 'muck in' as much as a regular employee, but an intern should not be regarded as an unpaid office junior, let alone barista or cleaner.

Inappropriate Tasks

  • Endless tea and coffee runs
  • Large volumes of data entry, photocopying or filing
  • Dealing with sensitive information
  • Unsupervised access to customers or clients

Appropriate Tasks

  • Relate to the intern's career goals and strengths
  • Allow the intern ownership of a specific job or project
  • Are diverse
  • Have specific, measurable outcomes
  • Are opportunities to give constructive feedback
Keep Them Under Your Wing

Make sure your HR department allocates appropriately trained staff members to take responsibility for every step of your intern's experience at your company. Using HR software to share information between departments is time and paper-saving, and will provide an all-round profile on your intern that can be shared between departments and used later for meaningful reference writing. Make sure you record your intern's basic contact details and other related documents (qualifications, references, work experience) on your HR system to ensure that all parties can access their vital statistics at any time. HR software can also be used to record your interns' training programs and planned dates for departmental rotations - in the Cloud programs, such as those provided by Cezanne HR, are ideal for this. Make sure your intern is trained sufficiently to deal with all demands and challenges they might encounter on the job, as they may well be client-facing.

A poorly planned internship will cost you time and resources, but a well-structured placement will result in a valuable experience for all. Protect yourself as well as your interns: make sure you have the time and the human resources on hand and in the loop before you advertise.

Image of paperwork from Flickr

About the author

Written by Michael Palmer, a business graduate and writer on behalf of Cezanne. His writing covers many subjects, including business, marketing, HR, fitness, and football.



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