November is upon us and we have little more than six months until late spring brings another wave of fresh interns to the nation’s capital. It’s not too early to begin assessing your organization’s need for spring and summer interns. The are some very well-known and practical benefits of hiring interns – inexpensive (or free) labor, additional help with projects, and seasonal availability in the summer when regular staff tend to take vacation. Of course, there are also challenges – mid-level staff will need to provide interns with supervision on tasks, orientation to programs and policies, and training in more specialized duties. There are, however, hidden benefits to hiring interns that can impact your organization for years to come.
Here are three reasons why you need interns…now. And they may not be the reasons you expect.
1. Fresh perspective
We have probably all heard the uninspiring justification that, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” Fortunately, interns start with a fresh slate. To someone completely new to an organization, there is no “always.” Some will see this fact as inexperience, but it is much more. While interns are being trained on office processes is an excellent time to reassess those processes. Offices that work together form systems and processes to deliver projects and programs. Sometimes those systems don’t function optimally and the people most familiar with them may be too tangled in the day to day operations to take a step back and assess the system and where it is weak. I often ask new interns in my office to learn a workflow for a specific kind of project, and then critique it. They may not always have the inside knowledge to go into depth, but they can usually identify redundancies or introduce new ideas. Their fresh perspective serves as one of many resources in crafting programs and processes. Interns not only enjoy learning experiences, they create them, too.
2. Management experience for permanent staff
For the permanent staff who manage the interns’ daily work, it is easy to feel as though additional duties are piling on top of an already busy schedule. Interns do contribute, but there is a lot to do for the staff who manage them: train and mentor the intern, task them with projects, review their work and provide useful feedback. But that experience is another often overlooked benefit of having interns on your staff. The skills they learn and practice while developing interns can help prepare permanent staff for roles that require personnel management skills. In fact, having an intern shadow mid- or senior-level staff is not only a great opportunity for the intern. Permanent staff can practice mentoring, effective and clear tasking, and giving productive feedback. Staff can gain these invaluable management skills through helping interns to thrive.
3. Build your talent pipeline and network
This is one of the longer-term benefits of hiring interns: they can grow into progressively senior positions and bolster your talent pipeline. If you hire a more senior person later, when a mid-level position opens up five years from now, and train them in the specifics of your programs, you will be training a much more highly paid newcomer who will need to produce results fairly quickly. Filling that same position with a former intern who has learned the business from the bottom up, and who is ready for more responsibility, could mean a shorter learning curve and seeing results more quickly. What’s more, all their training for the higher level job would have been distributed over their career at your organization, meaning your investment in training for a mid-level job would be spaced out over months or years. For this strategy, it’s essential to plan with the intern her or his development path from junior staff into mid-level and beyond. I have been lucky to work with some rising stars who have taken this path, and it has been mutually beneficial to former-intern and organization.
Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. So what happens if the intern moves on? Is it still worth the investment? Your permanent staff has gained management skills and interns who leave on good terms may return later in their careers, with wider experience. If not, you have expanded your organization’s network by one more person who will carry a fondness for the office that launched her or his career. And a good network is priceless.
So, as you plan your staffing needs, keep in mind these three hidden benefits of hiring interns that could make a big impact for your organization in the long-term.
Crystal Winston is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.