8 Ways To Incentivize Interns When You Don’t Have The Cash

Published on WeWork

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Let’s face it: it’s really easy to have penny-pincher syndrome in the startup world. With so many well-educated, jobless individuals, it’s easier than ever to underpay — or not pay someone at all — and call them an “intern.”

But sometimes, it’s helpful to step back and remember that you get what you pay for — or in this case, don’t pay for.

Today, I want to remind you that there are many forms of compensation, which may or may not include cash, checks, credit cards, or PayPal. These are known as incentives: rewards or recognition offered in exchange for an intern or employee’s performance.

We rounded up our best list of intern incentives for bootstrapped startups. Here they are:

1. Provide Valuable, Hands-On Experience Opportunities

According to Intern Bridge’s 2010 Salary Report, the number one reason students pursued internships was to gain hands-on experience in their field. Number two was to become better prepared for employment in their field while number three was to learn new skills.

Do not take on an unpaid intern if you do not have an industry expert on staff to manage that intern. For instance, don’t hire an unpaid marketing intern because you’re a developer and don’t know how to do marketing.

2. Offer Flexibility In Work Environment

When I ask people who sign up for freelanship why they do so, the overwhelming answer is because they can gain experience on their own time. Since many young people need to work while attending school full-time, they need flexible work environments — therefore, allow them to work remotely if they please. You may just find you get better work out of them by doing so.

3. Incentivize With Monthly Rewards

I like to reward interns on a monthly basis. This promotes loyalty and retention. It gives them a reason to stay another month. Of course, monthly incentives get better with each month they stay on and produce the deliverables they promised you.

Monthly incentives may include:

  • Small monetary stipends (Even $200 is good)
  • a Chromebook
  • a website
  • paid online membership fees
  • anything else that your intern finds valuable

4. Gift An Online Course Or Membership

This incentive is a no-brainer for employers to purchase for their intern. Purchasing an online course for your intern is extremely cost-effective, and if your intern is a self-learner, providing them with a course will decrease the amount of time they demand from you to train them.

5. Help Them Build Their Online Presence

For Christmas, I purchased my intern everything she needed to create an online portfolio.

This is how much it cost me:

  • Domain name: $2.99
  • Hosting for a year: $25
  • WordPress theme: $50
  • Two hours to help her (the rest she figured out on her own)

It was one of the best Christmas presents I gave last year. Don’t have an extra $80? Offer to critique their resume or get them started on LinkedIn.

6. Buy Them A Ticket To An Industry Conference

Last year, I took my marketing intern to Inbound 2014 in Boston, and she loved it. Conferences are a great way for newbies to learn, network, and get a feel for an industry they may see themselves working in for a very long time.

7. Recognize Their Hard Work

You can do this a few different ways. You could leave them a reference on LinkedIn, or recommend them to a connection who is currently hiring for a paid opportunity they’d be perfect for. Of course, you could just always make a habit of thanking them when they deliver. Recognition goes a long way with millennials.

8. Connect Them With Influencers In Your Network

Do you tout more than 500+ valuable connections on LinkedIn? Or do you know industry celebs? Invite one of your super cool influencer friends to lunch with you and your amazing intern. Let them ask questions and make friends with your acquaintance.

What About College Credit?

College credit, in my experience, is not a good incentive for interns. In fact, it’s a costly requirement for students.

Did you know that internships are typically worth two to three credit hours, and cost at minimum $300 per credit hour? That’s expensive and sometimes unfeasible for students.

For those of you still unsure about what interns want, here’s one, final suggestion: ask them.

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