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Should You Hire a Summer Intern for Your Small Business?

Should You Hire a Summer Intern for Your Small Business?

I landed a dream internship at a city magazine the summer before my senior year of college. I proposed the internship, and I was the first intern the magazine had ever had. The editor and I hit it off in an interview, and I think she liked the idea of helping a journalism student.

She hired me to work for 10 weeks three days a week as an editorial assistant. My pay? No salary but full course credit. I worked at a supermarket the other four days a week. Even though I knew a good chunk of my wages was going toward the gas and the wardrobe I needed for the internship, I was excited about what I would learn. I also knew the internship would look great on my resume.

After only a few weeks, I was left hoping the resume building aspect would be enough to make the internship worth it. Why? There simply wasn’t enough for me to do. I was bored, and I felt I was more of a burden to the staff than an asset.

I completed the 10 weeks on good terms with the editor and her staff. She gave me a glowing reference letter, and I got my credits. Since then, I have had the opportunity to look at internships from the employer side, and as a community college instructor, I have viewed internships from that perspective as well.

If you are thinking of hiring an intern for your small business, here are some key factors to keep in mind:

Know The Labor Laws

Today, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has some clear guidelines on internships, and, as a result, most interns receive a salary. In a 2014 survey on internships by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 97 percent of the responding employers said they planned to hire interns and 98 percent of those respondents said they would pay interns.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, most internships with private sector, for-profit businesses are considered “employment.” Therefore, those workers must be paid at least the minimum wage and any overtime pay. The restrictions are looser for non-profit organizations and for public employers.

In order for a worker to be considered as an unpaid “trainee” and not an employee at a for-profit business, the DOL sets the following requirements:

  • The training must be similar to what would be given in an educational environment.
  • The experience must benefit the intern.
  • The intern must work under the supervision of existing staff and not displace a staff member.
  • The employer must gain no immediate advantage from the intern’s work.
  • The intern is not entitled to a job at the end of the internship.
  • Both employer and intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages.

Create a Detailed Job Description

Lack of planning was a big part of the problem with my own internship. The editor had a few small projects for me to complete but had given little to no thought about what I would do after that. I had no ongoing assignments and no real oversight.

Brainstorm ideas with your staff members. Decide what specific tasks the intern will be performing and who will be training and supervising the intern. Keep the educational aspect in mind. “Busy” work can be very discouraging for a capable intern.

Make sure you have the space and needed supplies on hand for the intern to do the job effectively.

Take the Time to Find the Right Person

Advertise your opening with professional associations in your industry, with high school counselors and with colleges and universities. Check out the free job listings at, www.internweb.comand

Just as you would with hiring a staff member, look for the person with the best qualifications. Be sure to request resumes and cover letters from your applicants. Since most candidates will not have professional experience – that is why they need the internship, after all – look for volunteer experience and completed course work.

When you narrow down your choices, schedule personal interviews with those candidates and then follow up those conversations by contacting their references.

Flexibility Works

Would a virtual internship work for your firm? What about a combination work-from- home and in-office position? Depending on your business, this relationship may be a cost-saver for both you and your intern. You will save on office space and supplies, and your intern will save time and money on commuting.

Are there work assignments your intern can accomplish off-site? Possibilities include research and writing, social media marketing and website development.

Do Your Homework

Hiring an intern may be new to you, but you can benefit from the experience of others. Talk to colleagues about their experiences. The Internship Institute is a non-profit organization that seeks to “bridge the experience gap between classroom learning and workplace skills.”

If you have questions about whether your intern should be a paid or unpaid position, the Department of Labor has a video on the subject, or you can consult your attorney.

Hiring a summer intern can be a great way to offer a student real work experience in your industry. The intern makes valuable contacts and can see if the field is a good fit for their talents. In addition, you gain the enthusiasm and fresh insight of someone who is excited about your business. You may connect with someone who will come back and work with you on a school break or even after graduation.

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by Tricia Drevets // Regular Contributor to Businessing Magazine. Tricia Drevets is a freelance writer who specializes in business and communication topics. A community college speech and theater instructor, Tricia lives in beautiful Southern Oregon.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.