5 Tips for Hiring and Managing a Summer Intern - The University of La Verne Small Business Development Center (SBDC)
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5 Tips for Hiring and Managing a Summer Intern

Is your small business looking to hire an intern this summer? You’re not alone! According to a December 2012 survey by Internships.com, 53 percent of the 300 companies surveyed plan to hire more interns in 2013 than they did in 2012.

In fact, internships are becoming increasingly important to both students and business owners. The difficult economic climate means that new graduates face unprecedented challenges as they try to enter the job market. Internships give them a vital foot in the door and also provide employers with nurtured and eager talent to help them grow their business.

Just look at the data:

  • 47 percent of employers have a structured internship program
  • 39 percent of small businesses made full time job offers to interns in 2012
  • 85 percent of employers say hiring an intern was a positive experience

If you want new ideas and the opportunity to nurture a potential future employee – at a low cost – read these five tips for hiring and managing an intern (within the law).

Assess your Needs

Interns will be looking for the right kind of experience, so it’s important to evaluate your needs and create a job description that is appealing for both parties. Think about how an intern can help you achieve your business goals? Do you have enough work to support an intern? Who will supervise, train and mentor this individual? What about resources – like office space or a computer?

Think about potential workload that you can hand-off in terms of short and long term assignments and be sure to plan well in advance (hiring takes time)!

Should you Offer a Paid or Un-Paid Internship?

Should you pay your interns? Interestingly, most students state that compensation is the least important factor when considering an internship. And according to Internships.com, one third of businesses surveyed chose not to pay their summer interns (choosing to offer college credits, company perks or travel stipends instead).

If you want to attract right talent and take your investment seriously, then it’s worth compensating your intern(s) appropriately. (The average hourly rate for a bachelor’s degree-level intern is $16.21, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.)

Why not get an un-paid intern? Perhaps the biggest rationale for paying interns is that the U.S. Department of Labor puts limits on the work un-paid interns can perform under the Fair Labor Standards Act. For example, your business can’t be seen to derive any benefit from the intern. Essentially, the following applies:

  • Unpaid interns cannot do any work that contributes to a company's operations. This includes any tasks that help you run your business, like documenting inventory, filing papers, or answering emails.
  • Unpaid interns can shadow other employees and perform duties that don't have a business need. For example, a bakery may allow an apprentice/intern to decorate a tray of cookies that will not be sold to customers. Because the task was only a training exercise for the apprentice/intern and the bakery did not receive any benefit from that work, the bakery would not have to pay that student worker for that time.

For more information on what exactly unpaid interns can do, according to the Department of Labor, read The Truth Behind Unpaid Internships.   

Clearly, a paid internship program will give both your business and your intern(s) more flexibility.

The Hiring Process

This process isn’t a whole lot different than hiring a regular employee. You’ll need to write a job description – be sure to state whether the internship is paid or un-paid, your objectives for the position, responsibilities and assignments of the job, and specific experience that the intern can expect to gain.

Where should you look for interns? In addition to posting the opportunity to your website and online job boards, approach local colleges and schools and register with their career services office. Many of these candidates are screened and motivated. Another option is the Department of Labor’s Summer Jobs+ Bank, a Presidential initiative designed to connect youth with employment and internship opportunities. Post your listing here

Managing Interns – Considerations to Remember as an Employer

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that this is a learning experience for your intern, not a traditional “summer job”.  Consider the following:

  • Expose them to Real World Experiences and Tasks – There’s no harm in giving your intern mundane, tactical tasks to complete, but be sure to mix it up and give them real business experience as well.   Have your intern sit in on meetings and sales calls. Give them the opportunity to take a first stab at a project, guide and mentor them through it, don’t be afraid to let go of the reins a little, and step in when you need to.
  • Mentor – An intern is used to feedback (college tutors provide it all the time), so be prepared to coach and provide honest feedback about what they are doing well on a particular project and where there’s room for improvement.
  • Set Parameters and Guidelines – This may not be something you are used to doing with your regular employees, but expectations need to be set about appearance, business attire, work hours, and acceptable internet/social media use.
  • Set Expectations Among Other Employees – If you choose to delegate mentoring to another employee, be sure that employee is aware of your expectations. Likewise, set expectations across your staff so that the intern doesn’t find him or herself being taken advantage of or assigned tasks that are not within their job description.

Workplace and Labor Laws

Many of the labor laws that apply to employees, such as workplace discrimination laws, also apply to interns. You must also ensure you comply with workplace health and safety laws. Some states also require that you carry workers’ compensation insurance for interns.  

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