Why Should My Firm Have a Student Intern?

About this time every year, several thousand undergraduate and graduate students alike begin the search for summer internships. Your consulting firm will likely be approached by a number of students, or perhaps by faculty members from a local university or your alma mater. Why should you say yes when the calls begin to come? What should you be prepared to pay, or can you find a free intern?

What Are Interns?

Students who are seeking an internship opportunity are usually looking for a real-world chance to apply what they have learned in their studies for a fraction of what they will earn after they graduate. This student will work full-time or part-time with an organization over the summer months and may, if circumstances allow, continue on a part-time basis when school resumes in the fall.

The role of the intern is to take on assignments that are commensurate with his or her skill level and experience and provide relatively inexpensive professional help for an organization. The intern gains job experience in his o her chosen field, some good fodder for a recent graduate's resume, and an opportunity to test the theories and skills they have gained to date. And typically, in exchange for the experience, they are willing to accept a wage that is far less than they might accept in another setting.

Why an Intern Can Be Good for An Organization.

There are a number of reasons why organizations might want to consider offering an internship experience.

1. Cheap Labor. Interns normally bring to an organization a number of important skills that under other circumstances might be very expensive. Usually, they have good research skills that they have gained in college. They often have good writing skills as well and can add value to an organization's product.

2. Fresh Ideas. Interns coming from academia often bring some of the latest concepts from their coursework and research. The offer a fresh perspective in what can at times be a stale organization. Many consulting professionals try to stay current with trends and research, but have a tough time given their workload and schedules. Using a bright student who has read and researched during their academic work can offer insights that would not be available eslewhere.

3. Academic Partnerships. Working with a local university on an internship program can enhance the organization's relationship with that institution. This may pay dividends in working with faculty members on projects or publications, identifying sources of research for a client at lower cost, or connecting with potential clients who have connections with the university.

4. Finding New Associates. Firms who hire interns for the summer can evaluate that student's skills and his or her potential as an employee of the firm. This "trial period" can be a good way of identifying new talent and testing it before making a long-term commitment. Many star consultants today started with their firm as a student intern.

5. Enhanced Reputation. Even if an intern does not become a permanent part of a firm with which he or she works, the intern's experience with the firm often shapes his or her career, at least in the early stages. Having a cadre of interns from one's firm working in other organizations brings a level of recognition to the firm that is of value.

6. A Contribution to the Profession. Every consultant recognizes that the profession is strengthened for all by bringing good new practitioners into the marketplace. Providing a quality internship experience returns something of great value to the consulting profession, and gives us an opportunity to mentor and help those wishing to enter and make a contribution.

What Does an Intern Cost?

Generally, the college or university will offer guidelines for intern compensation. As in anything else, you get what you pay for. If you want to attract the best qualified interns, you should be prepared to pay the going rate. However, some interns will work for free, with the firm providing work and supplies. In addition, most colleges and universities offer work-study programs in which grants or endowments may provide a portion of the cost. Explore all options.

What Makes a Great Internship?

Here are a few ideas for making internship experiences meaningful.

1. Provide meaningful work. Give the intern some projects that make a significant contribution to a client or to the organization. Do not look at the intern as a clerical person and ask them to reorganize filing systems. Interns are great at research; many have very good quantitative analysis skills and could be used to evaluate survey results and so forth.

2. Let them see the real world. Don't shelter them in a cubicle during the entire internship. Take them to meet with clients. Let them make presentations of their work. Give them a well rounded experience.

3. Look for resume-enhancing work. Interns are usually looking for projects that will look good on a resume and will have a finished product. Think about projects you have to which they can contribute and have a good experience doing.

4. Let them network. Interns appreciate the chance to be "in the loop." Let them meet with a variety of people in the organization. Take them to lunch and let them ask lots of questions. Invite them to staff meetings. Bring them into discussions when their skills could be used. Meeting lots of people gives the intern a chance to grow and learn.


So when that call comes from a student, a faculty member, or a university official seeking an internship opportunity, give it careful thought and find a way to offer that opportunity to a bright student. It will be of benefit to your organization, to the intern, and to our profession.