Small Business: Successful internships

Regardless of the reason for starting an internship

Regardless of the reason for starting an internship program, running a successful one takes commitment and requires the same kind of clear communication of roles, responsibilities and expectations as needed when entering into an employment contract, experts advise. (Credit: Photos.com )

Jamie Herzlich

Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

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For some business owners, the desire to nurture young minds is enough for them to start an internship program. For others, interns might help fill a temporary gap in the workplace.

Regardless of the reason for starting an internship program, running a successful one takes commitment and requires the same kind of clear communication of roles, responsibilities and expectations as needed when entering into an employment contract, say experts.

"Employers should not have an intern unless they believe it's a good fit for them as an employer and . . . the intern believes it's a good fit for them," says Andrew Schwartz, the Boston-based founder of Internships4you.com, a free website where employers and students can connect.

It's up to employers to define the intern's tasks and goals, he notes. When he posts openings for his company's own internships, he lists hours, compensation -- if any -- and requirements.

"It's to refine the pool of applicants," says Schwartz, who is also chief executive of A.E. Schwartz & Associates, a management training firm.

LABOR RULES AND INTERNS

Schwartz said most of the interns at his company are unpaid, which is important for the intern to understand up front.

But be mindful that there are strict labor rules on an intern/employer relationship if the internship is unpaid, explains Doug Rowe, a law partner at Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman Llp in East Meadow. To be unpaid:

1. The internship must be for the intern's benefit, not the company's;

2. The internship must be similar to the training that students would get in an educational setting;

3. The intern doesn't displace regular employees;

4. The employer doesn't derive immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and

5. The intern isn't guaranteed a job at the conclusion of the internship.

If there's any blurring of these lines, then it's wise for the employer to pay the intern at least the minimum wage to avoid potential liability, says Rowe. "They definitely have to be careful."

At Enterprise Rent-A-Car interns are paid $10 an hour, says Debbie Fischer, talent acquisition manager for Enterprise Holdings, the parent company. Enterprise, whose regional headquarters is in Ronkonkoma, recruited about 40 interns to work in its Long Island offices last summer.

"It's a very structured program and hands-on," says Fischer. It includes classroom training the first two days to familiarize interns with the company and its operations; working on the front line with customers; and completing a marketing project identifying new ways to drive business to local offices.

Enterprise was recognized by Adelphi University as one of its Employers of the Year for 2012, in part for its internship program, says Fischer.

MATCHING INTERNS WITH WORK

Adelphi works with employers to make sure they're a good fit with its students, says Jonathan Ivanoff, associate director of internships at Adelphi's Center for Career Development in Garden City. Companies must be willing to put in the time to nurture students, he notes. Most internships span 10 to 12 weeks.

Optimally, a business should create "meaningful and challenging work" for interns, adds Maria Casey, alumni career counselor at Adelphi's center.

Companies should set up training to orient students to the organization, she notes. Providing feedback and ongoing communication is important throughout the internship.

"It's still driver education," adds Schwartz.


GETTING IT RIGHT

Must-haves when listing an internship position.

-- Overview (brief description of job/organization)

-- Title

-- Hours

-- Salary (paid or non-paid)

-- Responsibilities

-- Requirements (preferred background or experience)

Source: Andrew Schwartz