For those preparing to enter the workforce, opportunities to get hands-on experience in an industry are unmatched. From an organizational perspective, internships can be a gold mine for finding talent. For industries like finance and accounting facing changing employer-worker dynamics and a shortage of future candidates, a strong internship program can create a farm system of talent.
The intricacies of the internship program can be challenging to create, especially for organizations that are new to bringing on interns. For CFOs and other business leaders tasked with developing these types of programs, most come from a generation that fetched coffee and made copies for college credit.
Nowadays, the people involved must have a willingness to guide and teach. Interns expect these programs to be robust and intricate and include compensation.
Identifying Good Candidates
It can be hard to judge the work ethic and skill set of an early 20-something with little or no work experience looking to find their footing in a new industry. Especially within finance and accounting, leaders must rely on the institutions the students come from and their academic achievements before deciding whether or not a candidate deserves an interview.
“We try to get a sense of the candidate as a whole, so we look at a combination of both ‘hard skills’ and ‘soft skills’ to gauge their suitability for the internship with our firm,” said Kehvon Thomas, CFO of commercial real estate lender iBorrow. “The factors we consider include relevant coursework; previous job experience, if any; and their communications skills, ability to collaborate, and level of interest in our industry, ”
“We go through local colleges like UCLA, for example, as well as job boards, to advertise our internship program,” Thomas continued. “Candidates typically will interview with three to four of our team members across two rounds to help us better understand their skills and potential fit with the program.”
An internship program is nothing without experienced people within the organization managing the allocation of labor, resources, and time required to facilitate a successful internship program. According to some, putting salaried employees in the room with interns may take away some productivity from the business side of things. To many others like Thomas, having interns and employees work together is something that benefits all parties involved.
Involving our team members with the internship program not only helps to provide valuable learning experiences for the interns but aids in leadership development and mentoring skills. — Kehvon Thomas, CFO, iBorrow
“There are several instances when it can be valuable for current employees to assist with recruiting and managing interns,” said Thomas. “Capable interns can support the team with specific responsibilities, and they often offer fresh perspectives on existing projects or processes. We also find that involving our team members with the internship program not only helps to provide valuable learning experiences for the interns but aids in leadership development and mentoring skills.”
Managing Young Adults
Leaders must be aware that sometimes they're providing someone with the first professional or working experience of their lifetime. This, combined with the pressure to perform at the internship and maintain their coursework, can make the morale of interns difficult to gauge and manage.
For finance-adjacent industries like IT, internship programs are incredibly popular. Keeping interns engaged and, most importantly, preventing them from becoming bored can make the difference between a great and average internship experience for both parties. In industries where things are more binary regarding right or wrong, like IT, gauging and enforcing productivity over teams of interns may be slightly less complicated but comparable to accounting and finance.
“To enforce productivity among our interns, we establish clear expectations and provide them with a structured work environment,” said Daniel Bastos, a 14-year IT aficionado and now head of operations at fitness technology company Able, who has worked with interns throughout his career.
Mentoring interns allows our employees to develop leadership skills, improve communication, and foster professional growth within our organization. — Daniel Bastos, head of operations, Able
“We assign them meaningful projects and tasks aligned with their interests and abilities, along with regular check-ins, mentorship, and feedback sessions to ensure they stay on track and have the necessary support," he said. “We encourage collaboration, offer learning opportunities, and recognize their achievements, fostering a productive and engaging experience.”
Effective interns, according to Bastos, can bring things to an organization that, when plugged in with an existing team, can result in unprecedented ideas on how to get things done. According to him, a proper environment that promotes learning and collaboration should make it easy for leaders to see which interns are performing well and can yield some seriously positive impacts on the business.
“Interns bring fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and a willingness to learn,” said Bastos. “They often bring a unique skill set, which complements our existing teams and enhances overall productivity. Moreover, mentoring interns allows our employees to develop leadership skills, improve communication, and foster professional growth within our organization.”
While some teams of interns have found themselves making as much as a decent attorney this summer, the need to compensate interns is a relatively new phenomenon. Everyone CFO spoke to, including those whose takes didn’t make it into this story, said they believe interns should be compensated. Contrary to popular belief, no state law mandates companies pay their interns.
As long as the internship meets state and federal requirements that separate its duties from an employee’s, and the intern receives some benefit or credit for their work, employers are technically off the hook for compensating their interns. Despite this, leaders believe that paying interns is less of a legal issue and more of a moral one.
“Our internship positions are paid,” said Thomas. “We believe paying a fair wage demonstrates respect for interns' real contributions to our firm. Beyond that, offering paid internships allows us to recruit from a broader and more diverse candidate pool and provide equal opportunity to individuals who may not find it realistic to work an unpaid internship.”
Bastos expressed a similar sentiment. “We strongly believe that interns deserve to be paid for their contributions,” he said. “By offering fair compensation, we ensure that interns feel valued, respected, and motivated to perform their best,” he continued. “Paying interns acknowledges the time, effort, and skills they bring to our company, fostering a mutually beneficial relationship.”