Spring is here and summer’s not far behind—which means businesses that use interns are starting to think about their summer needs. Qualified interns can be tough to find, and now the competition is getting even stiffer.
A study  by Glassdoor (disclosure: A client of my company) found that interns at top companies such as Facebook, Google and ExxonMobil can make as much as $7,000 a month if they work full time.
For small business owners who already struggle to compete for interns with big companies and their on-campus recruiters, this news might be enough to make you throw up your hands. But even for the interns who take these high-paying jobs, it’s not all about the money – and that’s good news for small businesses with small budgets.
How to Compete for Small Business Interns
Create a Passionate Workplace
The companies on the top 25 list aren’t known just for offering high salaries – they’re known as places where the best of the best come together, where employees are energized and where ideas flow freely. Said one intern:
“Work is motivated by a real mission. Very few people are there just for money.”
Indeed, interns cited a strong company culture and values as the third most important factor in choosing an internship. Building a strong corporate culture, emphasizing your company’s culture in your recruiting and aligning your values with those of young people (social responsibility, authenticity and transparency) will help you attract not only interns, but full-time employees as well.
Offer Little Extras
Another intern said:
“[The] company [offers] good bonuses and other perks.”
You may not be able to pay the $6,700-plus monthly salary Twitter pays its interns, but can you offer a bonus tied to performance at the end of the internship? What types of free or low-cost perks can you provide?
For interns, something as simple as pizza lunches on Friday, flexible hours or the ability to work at home can make a big difference in how they perceive your workplace.
Provide a Learning Experience
Said one intern of the experience:
“You will learn a ton.”
One of the hallmarks of an internship is that interns actually have the chance to learn relevant career skills (most colleges and universities require this to consider it an internship, not just a job).
However, it’s easy for entrepreneurs at a busy small business to forget this and slip into giving interns “grunt work.” The opportunity for career growth is the single most important factor interns in the study cited in choosing an internship.
Plan how the internship will help the student gain useful skills and experience – not just how it will help your business. You or another key employee should regularly meet with and mentor the intern to further their real-world education.
Give Interns a Chance to Make a Difference
Another intern shares:
“You will ship code used in production [and] you can have a say in virtually all company decisions.”
Who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to earn respect, be part of a big project and have input into the direction of a company?
Today’s Millennial employees, in particular, want to feel like their work is meaningful from the get-go – and that includes internships. Clearly explain to potential interns the role they will play in the company as a whole. Involve them in meetings and decisions and let them get their feet wet on big projects.
The opportunity to work in a convenient location with a short commute was the third most important factor in choosing an internship (tied with company culture).
Focus on local colleges and universities when seeking interns and emphasize your location.
Interns  Photo via Shutterstock