By Nikki Scrivener, Fourth Day PR

With modern degrees costing upwards of £30k, today’s graduates are under pressure to see instant return on investment from their time at University. Rather than spending every holiday serving behind a bar, students now make a concerted effort to gain experience in their chosen profession at every possible opportunity.

Internships are a great way of doing this. More significant than the typical two week work experience placement, internships give candidates the opportunity to get under the skin of an organisation, learning on the job and gathering invaluable references for their post-graduation CV.

PR continues to be a popular career choice for graduates so we receive lots of applications from students trying to get their first foot on the ladder. Some of the best recruits we have hired over the years have completed internships of one form or another.

From an employer’s perspective, interns are a fantastic resource if they are managed well. Here are our top tips for getting it right:

1) Interns should be treated like employees. There have been some horrifying stories over the years concerning interns being exploited and worked to the bone, particularly in the financial sector. Internships should be a rewarding experience, not an endurance test. Remember, everyone who spends time working in your organisation becomes a future ambassador — make sure they have positive memories of their time with you.

2) Paying interns is not only the right thing to do, it also ensures that the interns feel accountable for the work they are doing. Additionally, paid internships level the playing field for all to apply.

3) Create a welcome pack. Make sure that your interns know what they’re walking into. A simple welcome pack containing information on the company, the staff, what you do, who your clients are, working hours and even where to buy lunch can make a big difference from day one!

4) Help your interns to understand what they’re contributing towards. It might sound obvious but many interns find themselves working in isolation on specific tasks without any understanding of how their work is contributing towards the overall business objectives. It’s impossible to get the best out of people like this.

5) Allocate somebody to manage the intern. Don’t leave them languishing in a corner on their own. As with any employee, it’s only possible to get the most out of an intern if you are prepared to put the time in to manage them effectively. Perhaps you can empower one of your rising stars to manage the intern — giving them valuable management experience at the same time.

6) Set tasks that you would expect a full time member of staff to complete. Internships are a perfect way to ‘try before you buy’ - on both sides. In contrast to a typical interview process where you can only judge performance on the day, an internship gives employers an opportunity to really see what an individual is capable of. For aspiring employees, internships provide a chance to see whether this is the type of organisation that you would like to work for — think about the culture, size and sector of the firm you are interning with. How does it compare with your preconceptions? Is this the type of company that would suit you best?

7) Maintain contact with your interns after they’ve left. You never know when your paths might cross again. Most of our recent recruits have initially worked with us on an internship. We have then either taken them on immediately after the internship has come to an end, or they have returned to us after completing their studies.

Internships can be mutually beneficial to both employer and employee and for smaller businesses they’re a fantastic way of identifying and nurturing young talent — some of which might turn out to be the best hires you ever make.