As a company who has derived many benefits recruiting interns, we wanted to share some of our thoughts and experiences in this area in the hope that you can also derive benefit.
What is an intern?
An intern is someone who is learning a new craft, usually through a tertiary education provider, who requires hands-on experience in the workplace.
While the tertiary educator provides the theory, the practice can make the difference between success and failure in the real world.
Often, the experience is so important to a student that they will work for a company for little to no remuneration.
We believe that employees are vital to the success of our company and, as such, we take measures to ensure that our staff members are happy working here. The same is true for interns.
There are numerous cases of interns who started working for a company and landed up progressing through the ranks over the years into senior positions for that same company.
While we understand the value of the practical opportunities we are providing to our interns, we equally understand the value that their fresh approach brings to our organization. Therefore, in keeping with Integrity, Respect and Caring, we believe in remunerating our interns.
We’re also aware of how much we can learn from the new kids on the block and encourage all staff to interact with our interns, in keeping with our philosophy of lifetime learning.
The benefits of youth
We’re not suggesting that older people don’t study, but generally speaking most interns tend to be young and fresh out of school.
While many employers avoid younger employees as they are deemed to be irresponsible and lack professionalism and experience – we have noted the opposite.
We celebrate youth and the advantages that youth brings to Make a Difference, including:
- To earn a varsity degree, you need to be disciplined. A varsity student will bring that discipline with them into the workplace.
- Students are independent and understand that they need to research and educate themselves. They are excellent at being able to source solutions to problems.
- They are generally not bogged down with major responsibilities yet, meaning that they are less stressed and have more time and energy to devote to their job
- Child-free (yes, we went there)
- The majority will not yet have started a family and therefore won’t be distracted by the demands of children
- They have not been jaded by years of work and life demands and therefore tend to be less afraid to voice their opinion and be creative with solutions
Naturally, youth also has its drawbacks, but that is not the scope of this article.
Making it worthwhile
In order to get the best out of your intern you need to be clear on your reasons for hiring.
Do not hire an intern so that you can get cheap labour. This will backfire and neither you nor the intern will benefit.
Document the tasks and responsibilities that you will be delegating to the intern and make sure that you discuss and understand their expectations well.
Involve them in your projects as this will expose them to the demands of the business world.
If you are not personally available to show them the ropes, then assign a mentor who is best suited to help with the tasks that will be delegated.
Ideally, you will have documented processes that will help the intern quickly understand what is required of them. Documented processes are also ideal points of reference when needed.
And then make sure that you go Above and Beyond: Be ready to listen. Your intern will be seeing things objectively, with fresh eyes and may be able to innovate better ways to do things. This is probably where you will get the most value, but only if you are available and willing to actively listen.
How do I recruit an intern?
There are a number of ways that you can attract interns to your company. We have found that visiting the various local universities on their career days has opened some valuable doors for our company. Get in touch with universities in your area to find out how you can get involved.
The more obvious route would be through a recruitment agency, but that incurs additional costs as well as an extra ‘layer’ in the process, allowing for broken telephone issues. We found we are better off doing our own recruiting 3 years
Students love social media – so make sure you’re there and make your offer in clear terms. You’ll need to be selective on which platforms you use by understanding the type of person you are hoping to attract. Top tip: Social media will also help you get a better understanding of the person you are considering hiring. You may start to feel like a stalker, but it is worth checking out the information available.
What to look for
In normal recruitment, we tend to look at a candidate’s experience as a qualifier. Generally, students will have little to no past work experience, besides holiday jobs they may have had in the past.
Now is your chance to look at potential as opposed to experience. This is no easy task, but there are a number of questions that you can ask that will help you to ascertain a candidates potential.
Giving scenarios and asking how the candidate would behave in those scenarios provides the candidate with the opportunity to be candid and talk naturally about the response. Observe body language and the ease with which the answers are given.
Of course, having little experience will also mean that the candidate will be very nervous in their interview, so don’t forget to take that into consideration and make allowance for the nerves.
All good things come to an end
Internships are usually short-term contracts (although they can lead to longer term employment). So, when the time comes for your fledgling to leave the nest don’t just show them the door.
Plan a session with your intern to ask about their experience with your company. Ask pointed questions about what they found to be the most difficult part of their job and why. Probe further to find out if they have any ideas to help the company improve in that particular area.
Find creative ways to extract the information you are looking for. Perhaps ask “If you were the CEO of this company, what would you change and why?”.
Document the feedback that you get from your intern and follow through on suggestions.
Spidey the clear winner with interns
We’ve made reference to our core values throughout this article, with the exception of the one that tends to stand out the most for our interns.
The Spiderman principle translates to the empowerment of our team members to take the initiative wherever possible as this not only contributes towards their personal growth but also radiates trust.
Many of our young student interns still expect to be “told what to do” and find the approach of taking initiative quite liberating. It is a great lesson for youngsters to learn that with great flexibility comes great responsibility.
Feedback from our most recent vac students
We asked our latest vac students to let us know how they felt about their time with Symbiotics and received the following in reply:
“My experience at Symbiotics was very different from what I imagined a Job to be. Firstly, I was amazed by the by the amount of freedom that the employees are given – For example the You are not forced to come in to work in a specific time every single time and you can wear whatever you want. You just have to deliver at the end. Secondly, There is mutual respect between everyone, it does not matter if you just got there two days ago, you get the same respect as everyone else. I believe that all the students that did their vac work with me at Symbiotics were treated with respect because I was treated with respect. Thirdly, I noticed that people are willing to help you if you struggle and people who have worked there for a while were much more welcoming than I expected. “ – Orifha Tshikotshi
“The Symbiotics team was very welcoming and time was taken to teach us about how they worked in order to accomplish their assigned projects… Ever since my vacation job at Symbiotics. I started learning beyond my universities curriculum. They taught me that as a developer you should always seek out to learn new things since technology is always changing. I have taken personal projects and everything has been going well, I have also collaborated with some of my colleagues on these to get a feel for working with other individuals. I would like to thank the Symbiotics once again for the opportunity which they have provided me.” – Mpho Mollo
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Note: This article makes reference to our company’s core values – for more information about these values and how we apply them, read these articles: