InterExchange interns and trainees come away from their cultural exchange experience in the U.S. with advanced skills in their career fields and new friendships and professional networks. These successful experiences are due in large part to host employers who provide exceptional training. So what makes a great host employer? Here’s a list of best practices for employers hosting international interns or trainees.
1. Provide an Orientation and a Company Handbook
A formal introduction to the company is necessary for interns/trainees to get familiar with the office environment and meet the staff they will be working with on a daily basis. Including tips about the local area, providing advice about the best local banks and shops, or showing them around town when they arrive will help your intern or trainee acclimate to their new environment more quickly.
It is also important for interns/trainees to have access to information about the company and its policies if they have questions. They should understand their benefits as well, such as paid time off, sick days, or office perks. Also, the DS-7002 Training Internship Placement Plan serves as an additional resource for both you and your intern/trainee, as it details each of your roles and responsibilities and the training goals.
2. Explain HR Processes and Payroll
The intern/trainee will not necessarily understand how to fill in their W-4 or what U.S. taxes they will be paying. If the intern/trainee is being paid, we recommend you discuss all the on-boarding paperwork with them and let them know what to expect in their paycheck after taxes so that they have realistic expectations and can budget accordingly. This is briefly covered in the InterExchange orientation, and J-1 specific details can also be found in the Employer Handbook.
3. Give the Intern/Trainee Professional-level Assignments
Ensure that you are always providing challenging, professional-level tasks and responsibilities to your interns/trainees while also fully supporting them as they learn and have questions. Not only will interns/trainees get more out of the experience, but your company will benefit as well.
Trainees at any program length and interns who do programs six months or longer or whose programs do not meet the Department of Labor's six criteria for unpaid internships must be paid at least minimum wage. Remember, living in the U.S. is expensive and even interns whose programs qualify as unpaid internships should be compensated in some way for their service. So if you do not have the resources for a full salary, consider offering a stipend, monthly or hourly wage, or help with transportation, housing, or meal benefits.
5. Be Prepared to Handle Culture Shock
Bringing an international intern/trainee into your office can cause some degree of culture shock from both the intern/trainee and your regular employees. Here are some tips on navigating this and creating something positive out of the cultural differences:
Ask your interns/trainees about the standard business practices in their home country so you understand their perspective.
Ask your interns/trainees about their home culture and get to know them. This will make them more comfortable.
Check in on your interns/trainees to make sure that they are comfortable, happy, and adjusting to their new roles and the U.S. in general. Some intern/trainees might be apprehensive about bringing up concerns or suggestions without prompting.
When everything goes well, both the intern/trainee and your U.S. employees will benefit from the relationship, see new business perspectives, and learn about new cultures.
6. Be Aware of Language Barriers
All interns/trainees are required to have English language proficiency to qualify for the program, but it’s important to keep in mind that communication in English takes some getting used to. Many interns/trainees participate in the program because they are eager to practice and improve their English proficiency. Be patient as they improve their skills, and be careful with idioms and slang, which take more time to learn and understand. Even native English speakers may take time to adjust.
7. Integrate the Intern/Trainee into the Company
Include the intern in company activities and traditions, both in and out of the office. Some examples include office sports teams, group lunches, parties or picnics, or even a speaker series. Make them feel like a part of the team and encourage their involvement.
8. Provide Regular Evaluations
Particularly for longer training programs, evaluations (written or in person) allow you to touch base with the intern/trainee and assess the program and his or her performance. Weekly check-ins are another way to track progress and provide feedback and guidance, and they also allow for a set time where interns/trainees can discuss any questions.
9. Conduct an Exit Interview
Conducting an exit interview is a great way to gather feedback on interns’/trainees’ experiences at your company so that you can improve the program for your future interns/trainees. It is also a great opportunity to assess what your interns/trainees have learned about U.S. business culture, as this may help to inform your practice if you move into a more global work environment.
10. Keep in Touch!
After interns/trainees return to their home countries and continue advancing their careers, you should stay in contact with them. Not only are you a great resource and reference for them as they develop professionally, but maintaining this connection will expand your global network in the future.