*Editor’s Note: CC Biz Buzz is a monthly column series that features insightful commentary from a member of the Columbia College Robert W. Plaster School of Business faculty.

By Bryan Sappington

Over the past year, I have heard increasing concerns that finding and keeping good entry-level employees has been a challenge. There seem to be fewer qualified applicants, and employers are having to take more chances when making an offer. Perhaps the candidate doesn’t have any direct experience or may not have any experience at all. Sometimes this works out OK, but more often it is the start of a long, frustrating journey, leaving both parties unsatisfied with their experience and tying up precious resources in the process.

While any hiring manager will tell you that there is no sure thing with new employees, finding a way to remove as much uncertainty as possible greatly increases the chances of a successful match. What if we could test out candidates before hiring them? Creating, or enhancing, an experiential learning opportunity like internships or job shadowing could make all the difference in your process!

One of the best opportunities to see potential employees in action is through an internship experience. The benefits for the student are fairly easy to see; they get hands-on experience that can be used on their resume to jumpstart their career. But there are also significant benefits to the organization hosting interns beyond just the work being done at that moment. A well-designed and well-run internship program can help funnel great students into permanent positions now or in the future.

Bryan Sappington

Many larger organizations already have these programs and are reaping the rewards. But there is great opportunity here for small-business and nonprofit organizations that have previously considered internships beyond their reach. I asked Jordan Hudson, the Internship Coordinator at Columbia College, what barriers such organizations face and how they can be overcome.

“A well-designed and well-run internship program can help funnel great students into permanent positions now or in the future.”

Bryan Sappington, visiting instructor in Columbia College’s Robert W. Plaster School of Business

The first challenge is the initial design of the program and outlining what the experience will look like for both the student and supervisor. But this is where someone like Jordan can be a huge resource! Your local internship coordinators have a great breadth of knowledge and experience working with employers to design these experiences. One good place to start is asking what project you have wanted to start (website design, marketing campaign, grant writing, etc.) but have not had the time to do it yourself or possibly the capital to work with an outside organization. These are great opportunities for upper-level students to tackle!

A second challenge is feeling like you are unable to compensate the intern. Remember, not all internships are paid. Students can often complete an internship to earn academic credit for their work and do not require compensation. Jordan mentioned that it can be hard for students to find positions during the academic semester due to their busy schedules, but an internship that can be flexible with their working hours can be very appealing. Another possibility is to provide the student with a small bonus at the end of their internship. Especially if the student is working on a revenue-generating project, you may have more capital you can set aside along the way. Remember, even just $100-$500 can mean a lot to a student when they don’t expect it!

A third challenge is the supervisor feeling that they will have to micromanage the intern. Remember, the work an intern is doing is generally at a level beyond a normal entry-level position. There will certainly be some onboarding and training time needed at the beginning, and regular check-ins throughout, but a supervisor should not have to be actively engaged with the intern at all times. Everyone will handle this differently, but you can establish your expectations and set those boundaries early on.

Jordan also shared that if an internship doesn’t seem feasible right away, another experiential learning opportunity is allowing students to job shadow. This means the student can observe some of the everyday responsibilities you engage with in a normal day. Beyond the real-world application of what they are learning in the classroom, students learn a lot about professionalism, communication and other soft skills that are vital to success. Seeing you and your team in action helps them to visualize their future in the field, but also in your specific organization. This is a chance for you to ask them questions and pose problems for them to solve. As you get to know them better, you can start to gauge if they would be a good fit for your team in the future.

For anyone needing help designing an internship or job-shadow experience, or a resource to ask related questions, feel free to reach out to the Grossnickle Career Services Center team at Columbia College (careerservices@ccis.edu) and we’ll see how we can help!

Internships and job-shadowing opportunities are transformative experiences for students that help them understand what their career will really look like after graduation. But they can also be incredibly valuable for organizations of all types and sizes. You have an eager employee willing to tackle projects and challenges you haven’t had the time or resources to handle on your own. If things work out well, you just may be able to take the guesswork out of your next hiring decision!

Bryan Sappington serves as a visiting instructor in Columbia College’s Robert W. Plaster School of Business, teaching a range of courses including Business Communication, Organizational Behavior and Project Management. Sappington holds a Project Management Professional certification and has worked in higher education for the past 17 years. He earned an MBA from Columbia College in 2009.