September 03, 2013

Picture this: You’re in the midst of a big project and could use some extra hands. You’ve also been thinking about adding a team member or two, but aren’t sure how to best hire for the help you need. You’re also interested in working to better attract and grow young talent in your organization.

The answer? An intern. (Or two!)

Internships are a great addition to most IT departments for three powerful reasons:

Testing out future hires: These days it’s not uncommon at all to hire a team member on as an intern first to get a sense of how she fits into the department, and to give her a chance to see how she might feel about a full-time spot. If she performs well and fits with the company culture and she also enjoys her experience, you can offer her a full position at a much lower risk than if you had hired someone off the street. She’ll know what she’s getting into as well, and will typically feel more comfortable accepting a position.

Extra hands for a reduced cost:  For a project-based department like IT, there are definitely busy periods and lulls. Interns are great for this model because they typically only stick around for between 3-6 months (like a summer or a semester). They’re also substantially cheaper than increasing your own team’s headcount or even bringing in contract-based staff—although they aren’t as knowledgeable, obviously.  If you know you’ll have the time and resources to devote to helping develop and support your intern, he can be a great resource during peak periods.

Building community in your area: Your interns will be local, and this gets your company’s name out into a community of young people that you might not have been in touch with before. Few things are better for your organization than your intern telling her friends, teachers, parents, and network about how great her experience was with your department. On a local level, your internship program can link you to area colleges and universities, which lets you recruit from a great pool of applicants not just for short-term jobs but long-term hires as well. 

Like all hires, though, internships aren’t without their complications or intricacies—for example, the question of pay. There’s been a fair amount of media coverage over the past year concerning the fairness and legality of unpaid internships. There isn’t necessarily an easy answer to this conundrum, especially if your intern is getting college credit and you don’t have a big budget. However, it’s worth considering the implications of asking someone to work for free versus showing him or her that you value and reward good work.  There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for every IT department, but interns can be a valuable short- and long-term investment to carefully consider.

Do you hire interns? Have you thought about it? How does your internship program help your organization grow? Tell us in the comments! 

Posted By: Madeline Stone

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