At their best, interns can be energetic, creative, invaluable members of your team -- who work for cheap. At their worst, they can be annoying, wet-behind-the-ears incompetents who require constant babysitting.
The role of interns varies greatly by company. At big companies, they are often treated as glorified gophers. But they can be especially important for smaller, fast-growing companies, which are usually strapped for resources and hesitant to make a lot of full-time hires early on.
The good news is that entrepreneurs have an inherent advantage when it comes to hiring interns. While some young go-getters may be drawn to big corporations in hopes of putting a brand name on their resumes, many recognize that smaller companies will afford them more responsibilities and hands-on experience. As an entrepreneur, it's important to take advantage of this -- and design an internship program that brings out the best in who you hire. You just might be training your next great employee.
So what's the true value of interns? And are they really worth your time and effort? Our Board of Directors weighs in.
Founder And CEO, Nfinity
"Are you kidding? Free help? Who doesn't like free help?! Actually, it's kind of a two-edged sword. It is free help, but you have to have one of your trained people take the time to stop and train said free help every quarter. In a company our size, it can hamper the process, so what we are moving toward is having incoming interns being trained or at least briefed by the outgoing interns. It's like hiring skilled staffers. If they are good, they are good for the business. If they are bad, they are a drain on the business. It's up to you if you want to take that chance with free help."
Founder And CEO, The Go Daddy Group
"Interns are very important to an entrepreneurial company. Some of my very best employees have come to us as interns. It really helps a number of things. First, it gives the individual experience in the job world, but second, it is a great way for businesses to find new talent and develop them -- you can bring them up within the culture of your company. I have found some great employees who were once interns."
Co-Founder And Chief Brand Architect, Method
"Interns can be more of a distraction than useful, since they are a short-term solution which require ramp-up time and management. The best interns for entrepreneurs are MBAs with prior work experience, so they can hit the ground running for you while keeping over-head low."
Julie JumonvilleCo-Founder And Chief Innovation Officer, UpSpring Baby
"UpSpring Baby uses interns every summer. It is very beneficial on both sides. Interns get to see company financials, meet retailers, create a brand for one of our products, and we get the benefit of their hard work and willingness to tackle any project. Interns are a must!"
Founder And CEO, Greenleaf Book Group
"We love our interns. Being in a college town, we're flooded with applicants for all sorts of positions and we love having them. A word of caution about them -- Congress has just made the employment laws much tighter, so if you have unpaid interns, cut it out. It's always been the law that you have to pay them, but now the feds are getting serious about cracking down on it."
Columnist And Author Of The Small Business Bible
"I have a friend who created his whole business using interns. Before he could really afford to hire people full time, his internship program was his lifeline, and it was a win-win -- they helped him launch his startup and he gave them great experience and a recommendation. He has 10 "real" employees now, but he still has his intern program. It's a good lesson for all of us in these tight economic times, I think."
Founder, CakeLove and Love Cafe
"I've had some really good interns. You really gotta commit the time, get the days organized, and just attach them at the hip. Not sure what's fair to expect as far as output. It's probably more beneficial for the entrepreneur. But if you can't really be there or are pinched for time, don't do it."
Lexy FunkCo-Founder And CEO, Brooklyn Industries
"Not very. They require maintenance, time and effort. Sometimes you find some good people and get work for nothing. But mostly, they can be a lot of work."
Founder, The Relentless Foundation And New York Entrepreneur Week
"Immensely important. It's a win-win proposition for both stakeholders. The intern receives top-tier mentoring and the business owner acquires a competent, talented and hungry intern at a very cheap rate. However, it's important in this scenario for the business owner to ensure that the intern who is brought into the organization encompasses the same discipline (work ethic) and beliefs (vision) that the current organizational culture embraces and exudes."
Investor And Author Of Rule #1 And Payback Time
"If you can attract high quality interns, use internships as a way of conducting an extended interview. You get to find out who they really are on the job, not who they seem like on paper or in a 50-minute interview. And they get to see if the job is all they thought it was and if you're the star they want to hitch their wagon to. Its good both ways. The downside is giving them something worthy to do that doesn't take forever to teach them how to do it."
Startup Advisory And Venture Lawyer, Gunderson Dettmer LLP
"I (heart) interns! For entrepreneurs who can prioritize, carve out projects, and delegate effectively, interns can be valuable passionate pinch-hitters. They also provide useful market data, access to legions of beta testers and can be easy-to-transition future staff. Go with your gut when hiring, and ask your attorney to explain basic employment guidelines to make sure that the company is in compliance with state employment laws."
Danielle And Jodie Snyder
"Instrumental. Our intern program has allowed our company to grow at a much faster pace. It enabled us to have a team of people to help create the brand from the very beginning. We create a team of interns every summer and give each intern a position in the company while they are here so they feel like part of the team. Our internship program has been so strong that we ended up hiring two of our interns as employees."
Elizabeth Busch, Anne Frey-Mott And Beckie Jankiewicz
Co-Founders, The Event Studio
"For us, interns are still a pipe dream. We'd love to have 'em -- have even met willing candidates -- but literally can't find the time to set up a system to make sure we get good help from them and they have a good experience."
Rob AdamsDirector, Texas Venture Labs at the University of Texas
"They can be very useful if you invest the time to manage them. Like most mortals, they can't read minds, so you have to invest time to get useful results back."
The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 6/18/10.