Best practices for summer internships

Improve your internship program before summer by applying some of these tips from experts.

With spring almost here, it’s time for publishing companies to consider hiring an intern for the summer. Summer internships are a great way to educate next-generation workers on job opportunities within the B2B publishing industry.

However, there are a lot of questions surrounding internship programs: What are the best tasks to delegate to interns? Should interns be paid? Where is the best place to recruit interns?

Denise Clark
Denise Clark

Denise Clark, an attorney with Clark Law Group, and J.D. Solomon, editorial director at Professional Media Group, provided their insight on things B2B magazine publishers and editors need to consider when starting and updating their editorial internship programs.

Smalley: What are factors to consider when determining whether to hire an intern for the summer?

J.D. Solomon
J.D. Solomon

Solomon: At Professional Media Group, it really depends on two things. First, what is it we happen to need? Do we need something done over the course of the summer that could reasonably be done by an intern? And two, do we know anybody who would be a good intern? There are summers when we don’t have an intern. So, typically what we do when we do have an intern is we select one of the editors to be their primary mentor or coach, and that editor coordinates with the other editors to assemble tasks for the intern and to ensure the intern’s time is being used productively. Also, this coach or mentor is somewhat of a “traffic cop” who ensures the flow of work for this intern is reasonable.

Smalley: What tips would you offer if a company does decide to have an internship program for the summer?

Solomon: I think the first thing to keep in mind is that an internship is as much work for you, the editor, as it’s going to be for the intern. If you’re simply looking for a source of free or low-cost labor, that’s not what a good internship is about. When we bring on interns, we consider it an obligation to provide a valuable learning experience for this young person, and with that comes the obligation to prepare a program that will enhance their skills and teach them something, and that can be a lot of work.

Smalley: When hiring a college student as an intern for the summer, are there any restrictions on the number of hours they can work? 

Clark: There’s no (straightforward) answer on this. As we’re talking about internships that are taken for (college) credit, typically the educational institution will let the student know how many hours they are allowed to work. They’ll have certain reporting requirements, and the school has to approve it. The school will have their own direct communication with the employer on what their requirements are, and the school typically tells the student it must be “X” hours per week. At that point, the student and the employer offering the internship program can work out a schedule based on those parameters.

Smalley: If a company hires a high school student as an intern, are there additional laws companies need to consider? What are those laws or restrictions?

Clark: Yes – there you must consider child labor laws. You need to be mindful of the age of the student and of the period when the student is engaged in the internship. If it’s during a semester, the number of hours they can work is pretty restrictive. If it’s during the summer, it’s much less restrictive. These laws are also under the Department of Labor. Be mindful of both the federal laws, and also look at regional and local laws on this. During the panel at the national conference, we can certainly get into more details on number of hours interns can work and manage high school interns.

Smalley: In general, do you recommend offering pay to interns? Why or why not?

Clark: The Department of Labor considers that all work is to be compensated. Unless you can demonstrate that someone is not an employee, then there needs to be compensation for the work that’s performed. Most definitely if someone is working for an employer as an intern after (graduation), pay is essential. It’s more likely than not that internships need to be paid – that’s probably the safest way to do it. However, the Department of Labor has a fact sheet that says an internship can be an unpaid internship, but the unpaid intern has to be in a beneficiary role, not the employer. If the employer is benefiting from that intern working, then the employer should very much consider compensating them. Other factors to consider regarding pay include what the intern is doing for you. If (the tasks) are not beneficial to them learning about the job, such as picking up coffees, then those are employees and they need to be compensated.

Solomon: At Professional Media Group, we pay our interns. It’s not a lot, but enough so it doesn’t cost them anything to work for us. (Compensation) doesn’t have to be a lot. But there is an equity issue here. The fact is, some students from affluent families can afford to spend a summer not getting money at an internship, whereas students from families of pressing needs don’t have that luxury and are blocked from this same career path. It’s incumbent to ensure that a lack of family resources is not a barrier to career growth for a young person.

Smalley: What advice do you have on connecting with schools to recruit summer interns?

Solomon: Local colleges and universities are great places to look. They typically have internship offices or a career services office. Also, see if there’s a journalism department in the school. We’ve had success reaching out to journalism professors at local schools or journalism department chairs who can refer us to promising young student journalists. I would suggest reaching out very early in the spring semester – January or February – or toward the end of fall semester to professors and department chairs. Keep in mind, students begin to look for summer internships as early as January or February, so if you wait to recruit until April, you might not get the most qualified candidates.

Smalley: What are things to look for in potential internship candidates?

Solomon: (When interviewing prospective interns), you can only look for skills to a certain extent. It’s your responsibility to teach this intern skills, so I recommend look for somebody who is smart. You can teach skills, but you can’t teach smart. So, look for somebody who is bright, eager to learn and is willing to take direction and not be frustrated if their work is not terribly interesting.

Smalley: Sometimes it can be difficult to know what tasks to delegate to an intern. What would you recommend as good jobs to give to interns?

Clark: Tasks need to be beneficial to them learning about the job. Have them watch and take notes. Maybe there’s a meeting they can attend about a story or a magazine layout. They may not be participating in the actual work, but if they are in the room listening and learning about how something is done, those are activities interns certainly should be engaged in. It’s even more beneficial for learning to find a task the intern can engage in that will allow them to apply what they’ve learned.

Solomon: It depends on the magazine’s needs. There are always projects that are important but not urgent that get put off. Now, summer comes along and there’s an opportunity to catch up. Whether it’s researching for future articles or helping with ongoing projects or contacting potential sources, there is bound to be an assortment of tasks that kind of slip along that should be done. Those are things interns can help with. Also, it isn’t fair to only give an intern real (dull) work, like making copies. They certainly need to expect to do some of that, but they also need a challenge and some interesting assignments, perhaps a writing assignment.

Smalley: How much coaching should be done with interns?

Solomon: The more the better. At the outset, this is really a learning opportunity for young people. The more planning in advance, the better. At Professional Media Group, we have a written plan for interns with tasks we expect them to work on and milestones they’re expected to accomplish day one, week one and so on. We make sure that is well planned long before they come and that someone is their direct liaison, even if they work with an assortment of editors. There must be one person they can go to and say, “I need help prioritizing what to do first,” or “Someone gave me a task I don’t know how to do.”

Editor’s Note: To learn more, don’t miss Denise Clark in the “Ask A Lawyer” panel at ASBPE’s 2018 B2B Media Success Conference, where she will discuss the legal implications of hiring interns and part-time employees. JD Solomon is also a presenter at the same conference and will discuss how to solve editorial-advertising conflicts. The national conference is May 10-11 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Megan Smalley

Megan Smalley is associate editor for the Recycling Today Media Group at Cleveland-based GIE Media Inc. She focuses on writing, editing and podcasting for Recycling Today magazine. She has been with GIE Media since 2017 in several positions, including associate editor for Lawn & Landscape magazine and managing editor for Recycling Today magazine. She has been working in B2B media in the Cleveland area since 2014. She received a bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism from Kent State University in May 2014.

Smalley previously served on the executive committee of the ASBPE National Board of Directors, and she is involved in ASBPE’s social and website committees.

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