From the smallest to largest agencies, as well as corporate communications departments, internship programs are a common part of public relations. For interns, they receive real-world work experience that will help them ignite their careers. For PR professionals, interns not only help lighten the workload, but also assist in developing the staff’s training skills and extending company branding.
However, if you don’t have an internship program in place, there are a few questions to consider before you begin one:
▶ Do you have time to train or mentor the intern? If you want someone to get started right away and don’t have time to train him or her you’ll need someone who has already interned, preferably in PR. But if you are willing to hire people without a lot of real-world experience, be prepared to devote at least the first few weeks to training and have someone at the company or agency check with the interns on a regular basis.
▶ Should it be paid or unpaid? Paid can be a good way to go, especially in a completive environment where you need to compete for (and attract) quality candidates. If you are considering unpaid internships, such as ones for school credit, keep in mind that even though you are not investing money in a salary you will be investing time in training and developing a potential future employee.
Either way, know your labor laws and follow the Fair Labor Standards Act, which includes taking the internship test supplied by the Department of Labor (DOL). If you have paid and unpaid interns doing the same work, it’s considered unfair compensation.
▶ How long will the internship program last? Most agencies run their internships anywhere from three to six months because of the time it takes to train an intern. Yet other organizations, such as ones that are seasonal or project based, run them on an as needed project basis.
▶ Are your expectations clear? Make sure that the internship program has clear goals and expectations outlined for the intern, starting with the hiring process and including the rest of the staff. There should be some flexibility, but be clear about what the internship will entail upfront, and adhere to it as closely as you can.
A specific project or set of projects that the intern can own and really see from start to finish is motivating, and will engage the intern for the duration of the program. Clear guidelines will also keep other employees from sidetracking the intern from what he or she should be doing.
▶ Will the intern feel like a part of the team? Including interns in planning or brainstorm sessions when appropriate will make them feel more like part of the team, which leads to more motivated workers.
Even if the majority of the workload is administrative in nature, it’s good to diversify the workload so interns can get a better sense of how thebusiness works and provide context for the work they are performing on a day-to-day basis.Also, the interns may have fresh ideas that you haven’t thought of yet.
Schools with strong PR programs often have their students work on real projects, which brings hands-on experience.
▶ Is there a possibility for full-time employment after the internship? This may not always be possible, but promoting former interns to full-time employees often fosters more loyal employees, and may
motivate interns to put in their best effort if they may be hired full-time. If there is a chance of this, keep them informed as to how this process works.Either way, they will be less likely to finish the internship disappointed.
▶ Do you have the time to set a good example? Remember that the internship is a brand extension of the company. Even if the internship doesn’t lead to a full time position, the experience that the intern has at the company sets the tone for how he or she will represent your company or agency when speaking to others outside of the workplace.
In the end, be sure that the experience provides a balance for the needs of your company versus the needs of the intern. Internships may not be perfect, but with some forethought, you will have an extra set of helping hands. You will also help someone learn and prepare for the next stage of his or her career, and what’s not to like about that? PRN
Michelle A. Sieling is an account manager at PR agency Vantage Communications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.