A Guide To Digital Internships

by Alex Townley Inspiring Interns

More and more companies are turning to internships as a way to train and assess new staff but there’s still confusion around running and remunerating work experience programmes. Alex Townley, Marketing Manager at Inspiring Interns, explains what employers need to consider when hiring interns

Hiring an intern represents an opportunity to bring in a talented, enthusiastic individual who’s full of fresh ideas. Crucially, running internships reduces the risk associated with hiring inexperienced staff. It gives you far greater scope to look at a prospective employee’s potential, not just their experience.

Publicising Your Programme

Posting an internship specification on various job boards is a common way of making contact with potential interns. Unless you’re recruiting for a specialist role you’ll probably receive hundreds of applications from this kind of advert.


This is great news if you have the time to sort through swathes of CVs. However, it can be daunting handling so many applications and you need to give serious thought as to how you’ll deal with
unsuccessful candidates.

Specialist recruitment agencies exist to save you time and make the hiring process as easy as possible. They possess the clout to attract a large number of applicants to your internship and the expertise to whittle these down to a relevant (and manageable) shortlist.

Specialists can offer lots of value provisions on top of the basic matching process, such as a guaranteed swift replacement in the event of your intern leaving and access to talented graduates who might otherwise have overlooked the opportunities offered by smaller businesses.

Social media is another brilliant platform that you can use to publicise internships. This route has dual benefits for digital marketers, as it allows you to assess whether candidates know how to market themselves well on social media.

Do they create interesting content, participate in debates, jump on hashtags and connect with hiring managers on LinkedIn? Agencies should also look at the free tools that are available: Followerwonk is a good way of finding additional candidates on Twitter.

Selecting The Right Candidate

Using video CVs as part of the selection process enables employers to see a snapshot of a candidate’s personality alongside their academic achievements and work experience, often reducing the number of interviews required, saving time and money. However, a graduate will usually be under pressure when recording their video CV (or not a natural in front of the camera) so this should be taken into account when scrutinising applications.

More companies are now choosing to conduct initial interviews via Skype or Google Hangouts. Once again, these offer a quick and cost-effective means of screening candidates. With this type of interview, it’s important to agree a time with the applicant, don’t just call them out of the blue. You also have to think carefully about the structure of the interview. Consider setting the candidate a pre-interview task; this allows you to assess their skills and gives you something concrete to discuss during the call.

Think creatively about the tasks you set candidates on assessment days. Some of the digital agencies we work with set up test campaigns with small budgets for their applicants to run. This allows them to test whether candidates are able to increase traffic, boost engagement and analyse data effectively.

We’ve also heard of an agency asking applicants to drive traffic to their graduate recruitment campaign to generate further interest – a mutually beneficial process!

Making The Most Of Interns

Employers have to strike a fair balance when it comes to delivering internships that allow individuals the chance to learn as well as to contribute. We recommend you offer your intern a supervised project to complete that allows them to develop skills and gain a better understanding of your company. It’s also important to allow the intern to have a say in their internship, as flexibility is key.

Feedback is important for any employee, but for interns it’s crucial. You should praise them for things that they’ve done well, but also gently let them know where they could improve. This should be done formally at least once a fortnight, and giving regular informal feedback is also beneficial.

Although the vast majority of internships run smoothly, it does occasionally happen that an employer is unhappy with an intern’s performance.

In these cases, if the internship is unpaid, the employer isn’t obliged to keep the intern on. An unpaid internship is a learning experience with no formal contract in place and this means no notice period.

Minimum Wage And Internships

Despite lots of public debate as to whether internships are subject to national minimum wage or not, there is no definitive yes/no answer for businesses. Whether you’re obliged to pay your intern boils down to whether they’re classified as a ‘worker’ or a ‘volunteer’.

Broadly speaking, a worker is classified as someone who has set hours and duties, and who can be sanctioned if they don’t adhere to your requirements; whereas a volunteer is free to come and go as they please and is under no obligation to complete work for you. In practice this means that an intern needs to be paid if you rely on them to complete essential tasks unsupervised.

Conversely, if an intern is predominantly shadowing another member of staff and doing tasks under close supervision they’re likely to be classified as a volunteer.

The Next Steps

Of course, we know that an internship is often a precursor to a permanent job. Whether or not you want to retain the services of your intern, it’s important to broach the subject a few weeks before the placement ends. Don’t leave it until the last day! This is only fair on the intern, who will most likely be interested in a permanent position and will want to know where they stand sooner rather than later.