┬áInternship – Free labor from a young, enthusiastic person who’s truly interested in your company and profession: sounds wonderful, right? And under the right circumstances, it can be. If you’re considering hiring an intern, here are the most important questions you should ask, and what you need to know to make it a successful endeavor.

What does an intern do?

An internship provides a student or somebody who is brand new to a profession with a temporary opportunity (paid or unpaid) to gain real-world experience and training. Interns are not employed by the company, but an internship can sometimes lead to employment.

How does an internship work?

It depends. Internship lengths and models can vary quite a lot, so it’s up to you to decide what will work best for your company. Some interns are paid, others work for free. Before you start looking for eager candidates, be sure to set clear guidelines as far as time commitment, compensation, and flexibility.

What’s your objective?

If done for the right reasons, an internship can be mutually beneficial to both parties. Having an intern can help you find up-and-coming talent, allow you to give something back to your profession by mentoring new talent, and provide cheap or free labor for menial tasks. As for the intern, he or she will receive valuable training and experience, get a better idea of what working in that field is really like, and make connections with potential future employers.

Do you really need an intern?

An intern shouldn’t be a replacement for hiring a real employee, if the latter is what you actually require. Decide how you will use an intern on a daily (or weekly) basis, and consider that a real employee will need to spend some time showing them the ropes. Make sure your expectations are realistic, and that you’re hoping to give something, not just gain something.

What should you look for?

Interns should be vetted just like you would an employee. Otherwise, you might have a nice, long babysitting job on your hands. If possible, work with a local college or training program to find better candidates up front. Ask for a resume and letter of interest; and conduct an interview that’s geared towards what you’re looking for, including the candidate’s level of enthusiasm, work ethic and skills. Be clear about your expectations, and what the successful intern can (or can’t) expect in return.