NEW YORK (TheStreet) — Interns almost always offer cheap, reliable labor, but how far should you push your younger part-timers their first time on the job? This year, 53% of all American companies with 100 or more employees will hire more interns than they did in 2012, according to Internships.com. Thankfully, the talent is there — 65% of companies report receiving more applications than ever before.
Although interns can eventually turn into valuable full-time staffers (69% of companies made full-time offers to their interns last year) experts say there are some things your interns should never be asked to do, no matter how much you trust them — or how desperate you are for a helping hand. We’ve got a rundown on the top seven duties best left to full-time staff.
1. Keep them away from sensitive information
Anything pertaining to employee records or sensitive customer information should always be off limits for an intern, says Michelle Benjamin, CEO and founder of TalentREADY, a talent management company.
“Depending on the industry, there can be several types of sensitive information,” Benjamin says. When in doubt, leave anything private to full-time workers.
If interns will have access to confidential information — even limited access — it’s essential to provide them with the proper nondisclosure agreements and training, says Amy Burton Loggins, attorney at Atlanta-based law firm Taylor English Duma.
“You want to limit access to the most valuable or secret information,” Loggins says, especially if it’s proprietary or trade secret information.
2. Don’t give them too many menial tasks
Most interns will be doing their fair share of printing, copying and ordering office supplies, but this should not be their main focus, Benjamin says. Make sure that they have a defined project that they can complete during their internship.
“A good litmus test on how to treat your intern is asking yourself, ‘If you were them, what would you feel about the task you’re asking?'” says Liz Carey, co-founder of leadership development firm Emerge. “If your answer is, ‘I wouldn’t feel too good about it,’ then probably it is not a good idea to ask them to do that.”
For example, you probably wouldn’t feel right about saying: “I had them drive my car to pick up my dry cleaning,” or “I had them get my Starbucks (SBUX_) each morning,” Carey says.
In general, avoid making “busywork” assignments, says Nathan Parcells, co-founder and CMO of InternMatch, an online platform that matches college students with employers.
“Your interns are with you to learn; giving them busywork wastes everybody’s time,” Parcells says. “Having them do filing and administrative duties will make your interns lose engagement, feel undervalued and unmotivated.”
3. Avoid giving them unsupervised access to customers
Simply put, an intern should not be placed in a role where they will have direct interaction with your customers, Benjamin says. Due to their inexperience and lack of knowledge about your company and your processes, they could say or do something that could hurt your business.
“They could job shadow or observe a customer service person, but should not be dealing directly with your customers,” she says.
4. Limit social media exposure
“At first glance, interns and social media might seem like a perfect fit. They are young; they use social media platforms on a regular basis and they are up to date on the latest tools, right?” Benjamin says. “Wrong.”
The content you are posting to social media defines your brand, and once it’s posted it is difficult to remove or correct. Because postings may often have to do with customer service issues or negative comments about the business, these types of communications are better handled by someone with experience, she says.
“The assumption is that because interns are usually part of the social media generation, they inherently know how to construct a social media presence,” says Peter Whalen, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Denver. “Some do and some don’t.”
Even though many young people may be heavy users of social media, they probably have never managed the effort for a third party, Whalen says. Also, because interns are temporary, it can be dangerous to have them start a series of connected social networks and leave the company, taking with them all the understanding, design and passwords your other employees should have been learning.
5. Don’t put them behind the wheel
It may be very tempting to ask your intern to pick up an important client presentation or take it to a customer luncheon, but it’s important that they don’t get behind the wheel of a car on “official” company business.
“Unless you are going to perform motor vehicle checks on interns, do not have them drive on company business,” Loggins says. “Liability can attach to the company for any of their actions, as they are representing you regardless of their roles.”
This means that if your intern has a wreck while “on the job,” the company could be held liable for any damages.
6. Don’t let them near payroll or finances
Mistakes are bound to happen during an intern’s time with you, and you definitely don’t want that mistake to involve an employee who doesn’t get paid or a client who doesn’t get billed.
“Unless the position is dedicated to accounting or finance, don’t let them get involved with your billing, payroll or any other form of monetary task,” Parcells says. “You wouldn’t want to find any errors after the fact.”
7. Don’t put them on any project without a supervisor
Delegating your interns tasks or projects without the guidance of a direct supervisor could spell disaster, Parcells says.
“It’s very unlikely for an intern to produce a knockout piece of work without the correct amount of guidance and feedback from a great supervisor,” he says.
Interns should be given a “robust” experience if it is to benefit them at all, Loggins explains. “The purpose of an internship should be viewed like an apprenticeship, not a way to use cheap labor.
“Internships are not easy to coordinate or supervise, and it sometimes feels like a tremendous amount of work to provide a person with a robust experience,” Loggins says. “Mentoring is not a small task and one should not expect it to be simple.”