Each summer, college students across the country get a taste of the real world by participating in internships. It's worth it for companies to put time and effort into developing a summer student program that benefits your business. This worthy investment can help reduce overhead and boost productivity. What's more, who knows? Your best interns may end up being your next new employees.

Choose Your Intern Wisely

Finding the right summer intern for your company is half the battle. If you know what kind of intern your company needs -- for instance, a student studying engineering, journalism, or biology -- you can target certain schools that specialize in a certain field. Creating relationships with career counselors at colleges and universities that offer degrees on those topics is a great way to find top quality intern candidates.

Some ways to become involved with a school's career centers are:

  • Participate in career fairs
  • Hold informal brown-bag lunches on campus with students and professors
  • Serve as a guest lecturer

Tony Laing, senior graduate student services coordinator at the New School in New York City, says he has had the most success placing qualified interns at companies he has the most experience with. If Laing knows what kind of student would be successful working with a particular company it makes it easier for him to suggest qualified candidates.

Most students working an internship for credit already have some skills and knowledge under their belts, according to Susan Walker, associate director of internships at Middlebury College in Vermont.

"There should be an understanding that the intern brings some skills to the situation and can perform work right off the bat," said Walker. "The intern is there to contribute to the organization but also to enhance his or her professional skills as well."

It makes sense to spend a little time getting to know the intern coordinator, and familiarizing them with your business. Finally, make sure you conduct in-person interviews with potential interns before you hire them. This may sound obvious, but Laing and others repeatedly stressed the importance of a formal interview. Interns may seem like temps in one way, but because they're on a career track, they are often exposed to sensitive business matters and clients -- the same as a salaried employee.

"The key is having an interview with prospective interns to find out what their skills are and what they want to get out of the internship," said Laing, "It also doesn't hurt to offer a small stipend." All internships offer some sort of reward, but with a proliferation of internship programs, companies should consider offering paid internships, or at least a weekly stipend, as Laing suggests, as additional enticement.
Finding the right intern for the summer, even if it means interviewing a dozen candidates, is worth it in the long run. Interns are there to help you and your company. If your hire turns out to be sub-par, you'll have to run after them and clean up their mess.

Create a Rewarding Experience

Smaller companies may be at a disadvantage when it comes to finding the best and the brightest. Interns are often attracted to the large, established name-brand companies because that name can puff up their resume. To compete against bigger companies, smaller firms need to take the time to create an internship that will benefit the student's career. Filing and coffee runs won't attract the caliber of students you want to spend the summer months with.

Walker suggests assigning a person in the company to manage and mentor the interns. It takes time and effort to find, train, and manage your interns, but if you do it right you'll have skilled employees. Having several projects planned ahead of time for the summer intern is also a good idea. These may be projects that regular employees don't have time to do but are still important to the company, Walker said.

"Creating projects with set goals will be the most effective for the intern," said Laing. "Have an outline so that the interns know what they are going to be doing for the amount of time they will be there."

Laing also notes that companies should understand that undergraduate and graduate students have different levels of abilities that should not be applied indiscriminately to assigning internship duties. Whereas most graduate students have already held down full time jobs in a particular field, undergraduates are usually less experienced when it comes to the working world.

Summer interns can help your company by being a flexible helper for your staff. Because they are not an expert in just one area of your business, they can easily be transferred to different departments in the company to lend a hand. This not only helps smooth the workflow during summer vacations, but gives the student a broader understanding of the company as a whole.

The opportunity to attract a young, eager, and enthusiastic intern is not something a business should squander. With a little guidance and an outline of job duties and expectations, your summer intern could end up being your next hire.