Interns are a Wise Investment

January 13, 2014

We began hiring interns a few years ago. It seemed like a good idea and another way for our company to “give back” to the community. We could provide an aspiring professional with needed work experience and we would get some additional help for time consuming tasks.

We discovered that having an intern wasn’t a simple matter. It required lots of planning and attention. We’ve been very successful with our internship program, so for anyone who has interns or is contemplating hiring one, here are a few insights that you may find useful.

Pay Your Interns

Many companies see interns as a source of “free labor.” That’s a bad idea. The practice of classifying employees as interns to avoid paying wages is not only unethical, it is illegal. Just look at the hot water that companies including, Fox Searchlight, Conde Nast and Madison Square Garden got into over their misuse of unpaid interns and you get the picture.

It simply makes sense to appropriately compensate your interns. After all, how can you expect someone’s best efforts if you don’t pay them for their time. By trying to get work for free, you are more than likely to just get an unhappy ex-worker, rather than a productive member of the team.

Make the Experience Positive

Most interns these days belong to the millennial generation, individuals born between 1981 and 2000. Millennials are the most educated, sheltered, and technologically adept and some would say entitled, generation in American history. More than just career minded, they seek experiences that help them to grow as individuals. They want to conquer the world, today. Beyond all, they seek constant appraisal and positive feedback. Work experiences have to be meaningful, or they will quickly lose interest.

An internship program should provide plenty of opportunities for feedback and personal growth. We structure this by requiring our Interns and their Supervisor/Mentor, to set and present goals at the beginning of their time with us.  They also do a presentation on their progress to their supervisors at the halfway point and at the end of their session. There is also a 10-minute final presentation to the whole company over lunch.

Assign a Mentor

Millennials prefer egalitarian leadership, rather than hierarchies and this can be a problem in some work environments, especially where there are more mature workers and a traditional structure. We assign our interns mentors to help them to adjust to our corporate culture and to provide them with the feedback they need.

Good mentors know how to listen as well as impart knowledge. Part of their job is to glean ideas that our interns bring to the table. For example, our interns had input on our company’s social media policy.


Keep them learning. We rotate our interns through several different departments. This offers them more experience and a different view of the workings of the company. Our interns feel that “real world experience” is what they are here for.

We utilize Interns mostly during the summer, but allow them to come back during breaks in their schooling. We have a running list of projects for them that are challenging and engaging.

Make Them Employees

Our interns are employees, pure and simple. Sure, they are employees in training, but we see them as valuable members of the team. It’s like any business opportunity – one that is treated professionally and with an eye to the value it provides for both parties.

The benefits have been tangible. Our first intern went on to finish college and now she works for us. I think we got the better end of the deal.

Have any interesting internship suggestions or stories to tell? Please feel free to share them with me at


Joe Clayton
Sea-Land Chemical Company