Oh, the unpaid internship. So many of us have had that experience, and as an association executive you may think starting an internship is a fabulous to solution to some problems. We agree with you! But in a highly competitive marketplace, it’s really important to have a strong program in place that’s mutually beneficial for both you and your internship.
College students may have some insights you may not know about yet regarding industry trends, social media, and integrating or starting college chapters. That’s a great way to expand marketing and your membership, not to mention recruitment possibilities.
While the benefits to that knowledge for you are obvious, what can you do to support a college student’s learning, besides just providing a line to add to their resume and some college credit?
Do you remember your unpaid internships? Perhaps you were lucky and never had to do one. There are a lot of stigmas that go with unpaid internships, and some companies have better internship programs than others.
Things that are great about internship opportunities that you can provide for your interns:
1) The networking with professionals in a field you’re interested in is incredibly valuable. Put your interns in situations where they can meet people whom they could potentially contact about their future careers!
2) Practical work experience, even at the most basic level, is important. Try not to set them serving coffee, but give them a project that they can put in a portfolio or describe in an interview. Knowing how an office runs is important too as they probably need all the experience they can get, but giving them a tangible project goes a long way in building a future portfolio for a successful employee.
3) Interns often need help with the simplest things that come second-nature to working professionals. For example, when was the last time you left your house without business cards? Interns likely don’t have any! They may not know how to act at a professional dinner or networking event.
4) This is an opportunity for you to have an impact on the next generation of leaders. Will your intern wind up working for you one day? Eh… probably not. It’s possible if you have an opening, but chances are he or she will move on to a different association or even a different industry. What would you like your next employee to know? Think about it, and share that wisdom!
5) Is payment REALLY out of the question? Feel free to say yes (we know your budget is stretched!), but even a tiny stipend can go a long way for a college intern, who is likely already living on Ramen Noodles anyway. Is there a grant that you can apply for to help out, or maybe a sponsor who would love the idea? It’s worth an ask, anyway!
The good news is that college students are actively seeking internships, paid or not, for the work experience. The bad news is that there are a LOT of internships on the market out there, since economic troubles of many companies led to downsizing, which leads to an increase in the need for “free” labor. An internship program can be a worthy investment and a great plan for the future of your association!