How to start a program, paid vs. unpaid interns, college students vs. high schoolers, and more. Plus five tips for students.
1. Starting a Program
Begin by developing relationships with the local schools where the most suitable candidates are studying.
For Terri Stephens, manager of learning and development at First Insurance Co. of Hawaii, that means developing long-term relationships with local business colleges such as UH Mānoa’s Shidler College of Business.
She advises employers who are interested in starting an internship program to “reach out and just start participating in the different events happening on campus.”
The National Association of Colleges and Employers’ 2017 Internship and Co-op Report says employers found about half of their interns from open applications and about 40% directly from contacts at college career centers. About 10% came from faculty contacts.
The report also says employers began recruiting for interns an average of eight months before the program’s start date.
Stephens has worked directly with FICOH interns since 2007 and guides them through rotations with professionals in various company departments. She also assigns them research projects to present to some of the company’s higher-ups at the end of the semester.
“A lot of businesses use internships solely as a recruitment tool, but that is not really a focal point for us. What we are really trying to do is help educate students on the industry, showcase the different opportunities that exist, and then truly hope that something resonates with them and they maybe choose to consider us as a career path once they graduate.”
The semester-long internships at FICOH allow students to see if an insurance career is something they want to pursue. Stephens says internships actually save FICOH time and money because the company is less likely to hire young people who later find out they don’t want to be in insurance. “My hope with the internship program is to get students into our industry, and for them to fall in love with it,” Stephens says.
3. Paid vs. Unpaid Interns
The website of the national Society for Human Resource Management, or SHRM, makes clear: “The principal legal issue with internships is whether the organization must pay the intern. For private-sector employers in the U.S., the answer is almost always yes.
“Generally, the intern should be paid at least minimum wage as well as overtime. … Public-sector employers and nonprofit organizations, however, are given greater latitude in determining whether to pay interns anything at all.”
The exceptions to the paid intern requirement are set out by the federal Department of Labor: A crucial step is making absolutely clear in the formal offer letter that there is no compensation for the internship and no promise of a job afterward.
The department also makes clear that the unpaid intern’s assigned work “complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees,” and “provides training that would be similar to that given in an educational environment,” such as a classroom.
Here is a link to a Department of Labor fact sheet that spells out the seven factors that determine whether an intern can be unpaid.
4. College vs. High School Students
Steve Petranik, editor of Hawaii Business Magazine, has worked with interns for most of his 40 years in news media. He offers a simple rule for deciding whether a college student or a high schooler would be suitable for an internship.
“What job or career is the intern training for? When our company hires a full-time reporter, we require candidates to have a four-year college degree,” he says.
“So our reporting interns have to be college students closing in on their four-year degree. Otherwise they are not ready to learn the things that our internship program will teach them. Even the best high schoolers are just not ready. I know from sad experience that high school interns waste their time and ours.”
Petranik suggests that if the internship is aligned with a job or career that requires a high school diploma plus maybe an associate degree or apprenticeship, then junior and senior high schoolers might be good internship candidates.
“Every business can help or wants to help do something for the youth, it’s just not always to the extent of an internship,” says Julie Morikawa, ClimbHI’s executive director.
“Internships are one piece, but there’s a whole bigger world out there and if we only focused on internships, maybe five students would have had opportunities for exposure. But we built this whole tool where thousands of students are getting exposure that never existed before.”
ClimbHI has already exposed 12,000 students to career opportunities in the tourism industry through conventions, guest speakers and day visits. And the ClimbHI Bridge connects teachers and public schools with local businesses and nonprofits that provide class speakers, curriculum advice, project-based learning and other insights into the working world.
“The whole philosophy behind it is while they’re in classes, teachers can set up all of these different types of exposure opportunities to help them find and uncover what it is that they need, and it doesn’t only need to come in the form of an internship. It can be a speaker coming in and addressing a group for half an hour or a career fair that they’re attending,” Morikawa says.
Businesses that make those early connections with high schoolers might find them to be excellent internship candidates after further education and training. If you are a businessperson and want to partner with ClimbHI or the ClimbHI Bridge, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
6. Create a Structure
Faustino Dagdag is an instructor in the management program at Leeward Community College and past president of the Hawai‘i chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management. He also helps students and employers with the technical side of internships.
“I really emphasize that interns should have a scheduled curriculum, but also be very mindful that the experience is worth a thousand words,” Dagdag says.
Not only is time management a prerequisite for any real job but creating a schedule for your interns can ensure they stay on task and know what is expected of them, he says.
“When I coach companies to do internships, I have them develop a curriculum of what they would want that student to know if they were to become a future employee. And that isn’t ‘getting coffee’ or ‘sitting in the meeting.’ ”
7. Assign Team Projects
“The grouping of the interns together is really important,” Stephens says, which is why FICOH assigns its interns to team projects. “It’s very synergistic because they learn from one another, and they also feed off of the questions they are asking each other. So having it be a group experience really lends itself to the success of the program.”
8. Exit Interviews
Feedback from students can help improve your internship program. Have an HR employee or mentor schedule an interview near the end of the internship to discuss in a nonconfrontational way if the student’s expectations were met.
Tips for Students
Internships are a valuable path to full-time jobs. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that 66.4% of 2020 interns received job offers from the companies they interned at, provided they were qualified. Here are tips for students from Stephens, Dagdag and the NACE.
Money: Don’t let salary be the deciding factor in accepting an internship. Decide if the internship is a good fit, and think about what you will gain.
Ask: Start by visiting your campus employment office, where their job is to help you find a job.
Persistence: Start small. If a company does not select you for its intern program, try to volunteer at a similar, but smaller, organization. Then apply again at the preferred company in the next round.
Environment: Many companies now offer virtual internships. Determine whether an in-person or at-home experience is better for you.
Leadership: Take a leadership role on campus or in the community; the NACE says that when employers choose between two equal candidates, the most common tie breaker is which student held a leadership position.