First time finding interns, what do I do?!
August 21, 2014 7:30 AM   Subscribe

First time hiring interns and it's all a bit overwhelming, could really use some insight!

I'm an office manager at a very small non-profit in NYC. I've been here since February this year and it's my first position of this kind. I've learned most things as I go and I really enjoy my job.

For the first time, I have to find unpaid interns. We're a small team of 3 and my two bosses travel a lot so we have interns every semester to help us operate. It's pretty much all office work such as data entry, packing orders, post office runs, Staples runs etc.
I'm wondering if anyone has any tips for me? I know we're able to offer internships in return for credits but when it comes down to it, do I have to communicate with their college to organize that or will they bring me something to sign to prove they've been here? Does it vary college to college?
Do I advertise on career/job sites/Craigslist as well as on their colleges websites?

Just any general info would be a great help as I've never been an intern and have never hired an intern.

Thanks in advance!
posted by shesbenevolent to Work & Money (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
a very small non-profit in NYC

I think you should post the internship to Idealist, then. Not sure how much Craigslist is used for this type of thing now, but definitely post it with the local colleges' career services departments.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:40 AM on August 21, 2014

Oh, and:

I know we're able to offer internships in return for credits but when it comes down to it, do I have to communicate with their college to organize that or will they bring me something to sign to prove they've been here? Does it vary college to college?

IME it varies by college. When you bring someone on board, you can talk to them and/or their college about how to proceed.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:42 AM on August 21, 2014

Are you looking for advice just about recruiting, or are you also looking for advice about how to manage the interns once you have them?
posted by alex1965 at 7:43 AM on August 21, 2014

The OP specifies that it's a non-profit, ewiar, and the fact sheet you link to is about for-profit companies.

I would first look at the websites of the career services or internship offices at all the local colleges. If you don't find the info you need, give them a call. They should maintain listings for students, and they'll probably be able to help you figure out what you need to do to allow students to get college credit.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:48 AM on August 21, 2014

The school will give the intern the necessary paperwork and then all you have to do is fill it out an email it back to the school. Arranging school credit for internships has always been very easy in my experience and the onus is on the intern to make sure the paperwork gets from the school to the organization and back.

You'll probably get swamped with applications if you advertise on idealist (though that might be ok with you!). You might try just putting an ad up on your own website and reaching out to professors in programs that intersect with the work your organization does to see if they have students looking for internships. Also, the college career sites are a good bet.

You should take a look at the federal labor laws. My (not researched, vague) understanding is that the intern needs to be getting educational value out of the internship, so you should think about how to mix in program or research work with the basic office admin stuff (that's also just good practice for intern supervising generally since that's how you get smart, motivated kids interested in your field).
posted by snaw at 7:52 AM on August 21, 2014

I don't think that's an issue in this case, because if it's a completely unpaid position at a nonprofit, they're technically volunteers. However, it's not a bad idea to double-check all the laws in your area and to read up on what for-profit companies are supposed to provide in terms of training for their interns to see if there is anything your outfit can do to train them. (For example, if they can train at all on specialized software, that's useful.) I nth Idealist and local colleges, who may have their internship requirements posted on their job websites. If not, ask. Consider the kinds of majors to target and have a serious timeline for your final selection-- don't leave your applicants hanging, since they might be in the running for other internships or jobs.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:54 AM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Internships vary. In this state all BSW and MSW students must complete an internship. It sounds like a bachelor level internship which would be 16 hours a week (this may vary by state) to be completed over 2 semesters.

Please allow an intern to be taught inner workings of your ordination and not just wrote office tasks. They need the education and it will serve them well. Paperwork is a huge part of a nonprofit but it is not all of it. If your looking for someone just for paperwork and data entry you really need to hire an office manager and not waste someone's time.

And really you are saying interns (plural) but you are a team of three. You shouldn't have a staff ratio to interns that high. If you don't have enough time for paperwork how are you going to train your interns? How are you going to do supervision? You will be required to do a site visit by the school and fill out some paperwork. The interns (if for class credit) will have assignments about your non profit because the point is to learn about how non profits work.

They will also have school and possibly a job. You should not work interns longer than their assigned times. No 5pm you should run by staples on your way home. It's your place to be supportive and teach it is their job to learn and preform job tasks. Learning comes first.

With all that if you think interns would be effective contact schools.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:43 AM on August 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Are you legally allowed to get them to do supply runs and other things like that? I read an article recently about unpaid interns being asked to run similar errands during the production of Black Swan and the production company being sued for this, because that's the kind of task a paid employee should be doing, and not something that an intern learns from. i would link to an article but i don't know how to on my phone.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 8:54 AM on August 21, 2014

Oops, just remembered that you work for a non-profit, so you might not have to worry about that kind of issue so much. But I would still recommend knowing all your obligations. And even if you are technically allowed to ask interns to run errands, it's really not fair if that ends up being the majority of what they do. As AlexiaSky mentioned above, interns are there to learn.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 9:02 AM on August 21, 2014

I understand everyones concerns about labor laws but as we are a non-profit I'm fully aware of the rules we operate under. As jetlagaddict said, as a non-profit our unpaid interns operate technically as volunteers and that is stated when offering the position to them.

snaw - We are such a niche organization that there really is a lot to teach our interns. As niche as our organization may be, with only 3 employees we all have to do a very wide variety of tasks within our roles so we have a lot to teach/pass on to our interns.

AlexiaSky if you read my question you would see that I am an office manager at this company.
The inner workings of our company are office tasks. We don't hire interns because we don't have time to do our own tasks, we hire interns to assist us with those tasks. I spend much of my days working side by side with interns. I don't need advice on what to do with them, I need to work out my responsibilities to their institutions so that they get the credits they deserve after assisting me throughout the semester.

kinddieserzeit running errands is certainly not all they have to do. As we're such a small office, we have a wide range of projects we need assistance with. It varies from design work, fundraising assistance, conventions etc. My job is a lot of data entry which does sound boring, but within our industry it's a lot more than just inputting numbers mindlessly. It's hard to explain without telling you exactly what our organization is.

Thank you everyone for your help, you've given me a lot to think about.
posted by shesbenevolent at 9:11 AM on August 21, 2014

Do I advertise on career/job sites/Craigslist as well as on their colleges websites?

Idealist! And yes, send a blast out to college offices, if you can.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:21 AM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

You need to excise the term "unpaid intern" from your vocabulary. You can not legally "hire" anyone without paying them. You are looking for volunteers. They are not interns. If they were interns doing the work you are asking about, you would be obligated to pay them. Since you are not paying them, they are not interns. You seem to be using the terms interchangeably, even though they are quite distinct legally. If they agree to a volunteer position and you refer to them as interns (and treat them as such), they will justifiably be wondering what it is they signed up for.

I am telling you this because you explicitly asked "I'm wondering if anyone has any tips for me" and because if you use the term "unpaid intern", you are opening yourself up to legal issues. This is not a technicality, and your non-profit status does not allow you to "hire" unpaid workers.
posted by saeculorum at 9:26 AM on August 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Although it may be technically legal for a nonprofit to hire an unpaid "intern," I really suggest thinking about how to make the experience meaningful and useful for the students and not simply using them to run errands. If you truly only want volunteers for admin work, advertise for volunteers, and perhaps look for retired people or others who aren't trying to get experience for their future careers.

One thing I learned managing interns in the past in that it takes more time than you'd expect to properly plan out internship tasks so they stay busy, and to manage them. So I'd suggest starting with one intern/volunteer, perhaps, rather than several at once, so you can get a better sense of that.
posted by three_red_balloons at 9:53 AM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

The job of wrangling our office interns was dumped in my lap several years ago and what I've learned is that finding great interns will take time and practice. Idealist is a great resource for non-profits and there are plenty of colleges in NYC that have career centers that will help you look for candidates. In regards to the interview process, if you have never done it before you will have to get comfortable with conducting them. Come up with a short list of questions that will help you to get a sense of the candidate and determine if they will mesh well in your organization. Make sure that you are completely upfront with your interviewees about the position and what they can expect to be doing.

If this will be an unpaid internship for credit only, the intern will probably have paperwork for you to sign from their college or university. Eventually at the end of the school semester you will also be asked to complete an evaluation form for that student for their time during the internship.

Don't overload on the number of interns in your office. Make sure that there are enough tasks for them to be doing, otherwise they will be just sitting around with time on their hands.

Get used to the fact that sometimes working with interns is a hit or miss prospect, but those good ones will more than make up for your experiences with the bad ones. Do what you can to keep those good interns interested in your organization to keep them coming back.

I found this PDF document a few years ago. It's a great informational handout for interns so you can help them succeed in the office: How to be a Good Intern

Good luck.
posted by beatnik808 at 10:15 AM on August 21, 2014

One helpful thing I was required to do before starting an internship at a non-profit in college was to write out my expectations for the internship. Basically, what I was hoping to work on, what kind of experience I hoped to gain, even, I think, my time commitment/schedule expectations.

This was helpful for making sure my supervisor and I were on the same page about what the work would entail and made sure I clearly communicated any requirements I had from my school (in this case, from the program through my school that was sponsoring my internship by way of a stipend) to my supervisor.
posted by MadamM at 11:29 AM on August 21, 2014

They do seem to be really cracking down on the 'intern' thing lately. I am not in NYC but have read several articles about this in my local area and in one case, a major company shut down its intern program after being told it wasn't legal, then applied for a government grant so they could open it up again and actually pay the interns. I don't see how being a 'non-profit' would excuse you from labor laws. You can recruit for volunteers, if that's what you want, but if you want 'interns' and they will be getting a credit for it, you really should expect that what you do with them may not entirely be up to you. I have both been an intern, and supervised one, and what I have found from both sides of the fence was this:

- They will have assignments to complete about their placement, and they may require your participation as part of the completion. I once had to draw and label a map of the placement. I also had to keep a diary and a timesheet, the latter of which my supervisor had to sign. My own intern (a high school student who was getting a credit for working as my assistant) had a lengthy booklet of questions he had to interview me about over the course of a summer; we worked on this in dribs and drabs when we had time, and they included questions such as health and safety procedures in the workplace, lists of job tasks where he was asked to check off which ones he had done (e.g. attend staff meetings with me) and even questions about the education I needed in order to get my job.

- There will likely be at least a few visits from whomever is supervising them for their course work. I remember this being a headache for me because we had ot get visitor clearance for his teacher, a parking permit for her, etc. and he was a good kid, but was not always super on top of when she was supposed to be coming, how or when she would be arriving etc.

- There were also a few days he had to miss because of school obligations. There was a list of about four days of in0-school work he gave me at the start of the summer, and because we were working with kids and had miniumum staffing ratios we had to maintain, I had to remember to get a substitute for him, and that affected other programs because I'd have to pull someone from elsewhere. Often, that person was somebody else's high school intern, had not been told they would be pulled, was not particularly happy about it, nor were they particualrly qualified to work in my area. It would have been easier to work without them and do it myself, but they had to be there so they did not miss hours from their program, and I had to have them there...

My point is that if this is interns for credit, you should expect a certain amount of interference from their program and account for that. If it is volunteers to help out an overwhelmed non-profit with extra work they need help with, do everyone a favour and recruit for volunteers who you can treat as you please :)
posted by JoannaC at 11:31 AM on August 21, 2014

According to NY state labour law, you do not have interns unless all criteria in this pdf are met. Otherwise, what you have are a) volunteers or b) employees who must be paid a minimum wage. If you don't meet these criteria, you won't be able to arrange for credit with universities and colleges.

I'll just reproduce some of those criteria here, just in case.

1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the employer’s facilities, is similar to training provided in an educational program. For example:
-Ÿ The internship program builds on a classroom or academic experience -- NOT the employer’s operations.
Ÿ- A college, university, secondary school, specialist, technical, vocational or trade school oversees the program and awards educational credit.
-Ÿ The internship teaches skills that are useful in other jobs (not skills specific to one employer’s operation).
Ÿ- The intern does not perform the routine work of the business on a regular basis, and the business does not depend upon the work of the intern.
Ÿ- The intern is not engaged in the operations of the employer and does not perform productive work (such as filing, other clerical work or helping customers).
Ÿ- The intern gains a new skill, advanced knowledge or better work habits.

2. The training is for the benefit of the intern.
- The intern must be the primary beneficiary of the training.
- Any benefit to the employer must be merely incidental.
- If the academic institution gives credit for the internship, it is considered some evidence of the beneficial nature of the program.

3. The intern does not displace regular employees, and works under close supervision .
- Interns do not function in ways that replace or augment regular staff.
- If interns do job shadowing to learn certain functions under the close and constant supervision of regular employees (but perform no or minimal work), then this is likely to be considered a true educational experience. However, if interns receive the same level of supervision as the employer’s regular workers, it suggests an employment relationship, rather than training.
- Interns are considered employees if they substitute for regular workers or add to an existing workforce during specific time periods.
- Interns are viewed as employees if the company would need to hire additional employees or require existing staff to work more hours to do the interns’ work.

4. The activities of trainees or students do not provide an immediate advantage to the employer. On occasion, operations may actually be impeded.

The essence of a traineeship is that an employer provides a benefit to the trainees by developing their work skills or knowledge; the trainees do not benefit the employer. In a true traineeship, the employer cannot gain an immediate advantage from the intern’s presence. In fact, in most circumstances, interns will require employers to dedicate resources (in the form of training, supervision, etc.) that may actually detract from the productivity of the worksite for some period.

posted by cotton dress sock at 11:32 AM on August 21, 2014

That PDF says "for for-profit businesses" in like 24 point font, cotton dress sock. The OP works at a non-profit. The rules are really different.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:34 AM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, I just saw that, sorry. It does seem non-profits can get away with a lot more.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:38 AM on August 21, 2014

>It's pretty much all office work such as data entry, packing orders, post office runs, Staples runs etc.

I suggest you pay them. If they're getting college credit, they should be receiving skills and knowledge that will help them in their field. Getting them to do basic office work is taking advantage of them.

People who use interns as free labour are evil; they're essentially modern day slavers taking advantage of desperate youth.
posted by GiveUpNed at 1:11 PM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Back - even the looser rules for non-profits say "unpaid volunteers may not replace or augment paid staff to do the work of paid staff" or "do anything but tasks traditionally reserved for volunteers"

Clearly, I'm not an expert, but maybe it would be good to have an expert weigh in, especially if you "have interns every semester to help [you] operate".
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:34 PM on August 21, 2014

"unpaid volunteers may not replace or augment paid staff" seems like an unreasonable restriction. I work for a non-profit. When I get an IT intern, I use him or her to help me with my projects (i.e., to augment my work). What else am I supposed to do with interns? Lecture to them and give them homework assignments?
posted by alex1965 at 7:35 AM on August 22, 2014

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