Improving Your Internship Program

Based on all the buzz around OEN’s upcoming Internship Workshop, it seems like companies are reevaluating the value and purpose of internships. Young business owners who have gone on to bury unsatisfactory internships under a mountain of career achievements seem determined not to relegate stereotypically negative interning experiences to junior and senior college students a few years behind them. This increased awareness of the need to develop more meaningful intern programs is a good start, but companies need to make sure that their good intentions translate to action. Here are a few of our suggestions. 

Pay your interns. Companies are able to choose interns from a large, enthusiastic pool of students, graduates, and young professionals trying out a new career. But interns are not free labor, and confusing the two can mean legal trouble for your business. If your company is benefiting from the work your interns are producing, your interns should be receiving a paycheck according to these U.S. Department of Labor criteria. By agreeing to pay interns, you’re putting additional pressure on them to prove their worth, and these days so few young people have the luxury of accepting an unpaid internship, regardless of how great the opportunity is.

Teach your interns. Give interns a quick lesson in your company architecture and objectives. Providing this education to them at the beginning of the internship provides them with a greater understanding of how your company functions, what their place is in the company, and how their work contributes to the business. You’re going to receive completed work that is more aligned to your specific business needs if your interns know exactly what they need to do to get the job done.

Have specific projects for your interns. Even the most self-starting intern is going to be frustrated with the task of having to invent their own productive workday schedule. Lacking the business foresight of a veteran employee, when left to their own devices interns may unintentionally gravitate towards work that is unnecessary. Prevent this by having specific, well-defined tasks laid out for your interns to do. Once they’ve knocked a few of these projects out of the park, you can slowly begin to introduce work that requires a higher level of independent thinking.

Include your interns. Keeping interns secluded or treating them like second-class citizens within your company hurts everyone. Being in the dark about basic business functions or unaware of the key conversations going on in your company will inhibit the depth of their insights and likely detract from the relevance of their projects. When your interns speak up at meetings, be receptive to their ideas. They’re approaching the opportunity as a learning experience, and living up to their expectations in that regard will keep them motivated to live up to yours. Additionally, having a fully-integrated intern gives you a valuable opportunity to learn about how your company is perceived by viewing it through an intelligent, fresh pair of young eyes.

Be flexible. Giving your interns some flexibility is important, especially if you’re hiring students. Unless the internship is an explicitly intensive, full-time gig, the chance that your intern is working a second job, or taking classes on the side are pretty high. Be open to the idea of partial telecommuting or only coming into the office for special meetings, and be understanding when faced with scheduling conflicts or the rare double-booking.

Give feedback, get feedback. Strong, silent type employers can be confusing and frustrating to interns. Providing regular, targeted feedback allows interns to adjust their performance and will result in better, more valuable work. Inversely, be sure your door is always open for interns with inquiries or suggestions about their experience interning with your company.

What golden rules do you follow when employing interns? What benefits, if any, did employing interns have on your company? Answer these questions, or submit other intern-related thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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Taking the Plunge: Deciding to Outsource Payroll

Stack of paperwork

If your desk is starting to look like this, it may be time to outsource your payroll to an online service provider.

Whether you’ve just made your first hire, or your company headquarters is already packed with productive employees, you can enjoy the increased time, money, and peace of mind knowing that your payroll is in competent hands. Outsourcing payrollallows you to focus on the key functions of your business, and leave tedious details in the hands of a professional. Unsure how to go about outsourcing your payroll to an appropriate provider? Keep reading.Step 1: Define your business objectives. Discuss the following questions with your executive team, and be very precise with your answers.

  • What processes are you considering turning over to an outsourced payroll service provider?
    Bad answer: “We want to outsource our payroll process.”
    Good answer: “We want to outsource our payroll process, including payroll-related tax calculations, withholdings and deposits, to an online-based provider who offers electronic reports, mobile payroll services, and direct deposit payment options.”
  • What do you hope to achieve by outsourcing these processes?
    Bad answer example: “We hope to see an overall increase in productivity.”
    Good answer example: “We hope that by eliminating payroll as a technical concern, that our office administration team will have more time to commit to crucial projects X, Y, and Z.” or “by outsourcing payroll our HR personnel will have the ability to focus on X,Y,Z”
  • What results are you expecting from outsourcing these processes?
    Bad answer example: “Easy pay periods.”
    Good answer: “As a small company with an uncomplicated payroll, we expect to spend a maximum of 2 hours per pay period double-checking our information before handing the process over to our payroll service provider. At that point, we expect to be removed from the equation beyond the occasional phone call.”Remember: if you skip this step and enter into an agreement without fixed expectations, there’s a good chance both you and the company you’ve hired will become frustrated with the business relationship.
Step 2:Do your homework. Talk to a few businesses that look similar to yours on paper about outsourced payroll service providers they use. Then, talk to a few businesses that look similar to how you want your business to look on paper about which companies they outsource to. Narrow your choices down to two or three companies.Step 3: Meet with prospective outsourced service providers, questions ready. You may want to inquire about how these service providers have dealt with payroll issues similar to ones your company faces. At your meeting, be clear and upfront about the objectives and expectations you defined in Step 1.

Step 4: Weigh the pros and cons. While you want to be sure to crunch numbers and get the most bang for your buck, there are equally important factors to consider that aren’t as easily quantified:

  • Competence- Is their work punctual and accurate?
  • Scalability- Can their infrastructure adequately accommodate client growth?
  • Ease of Use- Does using their services give you a headache? Is their system well designed, properly labeled, and user friendly?
  • Flexibility- Are their representatives willing to work with any unique situations? Is their system able to expand to accommodate extra features?
  • Relationship- Are you treated like your business and time is valuable? How long do you have wait on the phone before speaking to a client representative?

Step 5: Pick a winner. You’ve done your homework, met with providers, and weighed the merits of each. You’re ready to make an informed decision. Choosing an outsourced payroll service provider should be the beginning of the end to accounting-related headaches and tedious work-arounds. It’s time to enjoy your freedom, and focus on what you do best- running your business.

This article is inspired numerous Quora questions concerning the “best” payroll provder for their company. We hope that this was helpful in addressing the misconception that there is one “best” outsourced payroll provider for any company. Was this article helpful in addressing these concerns? Is there other information you’d like to see addressed in future blog posts? Let us know in the comments.

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