Spring is in full swing, and flowers aren’t the only things budding. For legions of college students, the time has come to start growing their professional skills by securing positions in a variety of summer internship programs. This is of course great for them in terms of advancing future careers and great for you as an employer who needs some extra hands, but what does it mean for you from a talent acquisition perspective? Is hiring summer interns really as simple as convincing some bright-eyed college kids to do free stuff for you? Well, as it turns out, this year you might need to spend a little more time on your hiring strategy for interns than in the past. Let’s talk about why.
New Internship Regulations
Back in January, the US Department of Labor (DOL) changed the way it tests if interns should be paid or not. Basically, the gist of the new rules is that you’ll now have to follow the FLSA standard for determining a primary beneficiary when determining if your interns should be paid or not. If you don’t feel like wading through the DOL’s statement for the details (trust me, I’ve read it), TLNT does a great job of summing them up. But the new regulations are only part of the picture. What we’re concerned with here is what they actually mean in terms of hiring summer interns. Let’s break it down.
1. Set Clear Expectations
When you’re interviewing potential interns, it’s critical to be clear about the nature of the position you’re hiring for. If it’s not a paid position, that needs to be stated in no uncertain terms. Turns out under the new DOL rules that if there’s even an implication of possible compensation, you may find yourself redefining your intern as an employee. All this means is that you need to have a game plan going in about how you plan to discuss your internship programs with candidates and an onboarding checklist that reinforces those expectations. Your talent acquisition and employee onboarding software should be able to help you define these elements and stay consistent. Oh, PS, this is also important at the end of the internship, as according to the DOL there should be an understanding that the intern isn’t entitled to a paid position at the end of their time with you.
2. Connect with the Academic Experience
A big part of the new DOL internship regulations – four of the six test criteria, in fact – is related to making sure that what the intern is doing for you at your organization ties back to and enriches what they’re doing academically. This means collaboration between you, your interns, and the schools they’re attending is very important. Coming up with a plan that integrates with your interns’ educational requirements by accounting for academic credits/contributing to course completion, highlighting tasks relevant to their program of study, and maintaining flexibility around their academic schedules will ensure that you both meet DOL requirements and provide an engaging, valuable experience. Connecting this to your performance management process can be a huge help in terms of documenting your internship programs, allowing you to set goals, provide ongoing feedback, and tie metrics like credit hours to different tasks.
3. Build Unique Value
This isn’t just about complying with regulations. It’s also about remembering that interns, like your full-time employees, have choices about where they work and you need to differentiate yourself to get the best candidates. You do this by delivering value, not only by providing the credits mentioned above but also by assigning meaningful tasks that teach real, tangible skills your interns will put to use when they get full-time jobs. It also doesn’t hurt to inject a healthy dose of fun too. For example, we take internships seriously at Kronos as a valuable part of our talent pipeline, and one of the things we do in collaboration with several other Boston-area companies is the yearly Battle of the Interns. Check it out, it’s a good time. What’s the point of all this? Well, the more value your interns get from their time with you, the more it will build your brand as an employer in the wider workforce as these young professionals move into the working world.
Hiring summer interns is an important annual activity for companies big and small, and if you do it right you can successfully meet regulatory standards, secure the right candidates for your business needs, and build your talent pipeline. Remember, no matter what level you’re hiring at, the cost of a bad hire is significant, so building a strong internship program benefits you just as much as the future members of the workforce coming through your doors.