Should You Hire an Intern This Summer?

by Patricia Schaefer

Internships can be a win-win for both employer and student, but they may not be a good fit for every employer. There are a number of considerations to be made to help determine if hiring an intern would suit your place of business.

summer intern
Image source: Photospin.com

A few summers ago, Business Know-How hired an intern. This Communications major came to us with a 3.95 grade point average, a great work ethic, and a winning smile. She learned and performed her job duties with speed and precision. This same intern went on to finish the summer by independently making up shipping charts, product boards, and new templates that we still use today.

At the end of the day – or more aptly, at the end of the summer – the experience acquired by our intern was a valuable addition to her resume and helped lead to future gainful employment. And Business Know-How got its money’s worth as the recipient of the intelligent work contributions of an enthusiastic and amiable college student.

Similar to our own experience, internships can be a win-win for both employer and student, but they may not be a good fit for every employer. There are a number of considerations to be made to help determine if this particular work arrangement would suit your place of business:

The Employer’s Role in the Internship

Before you hire an intern, keep in mind that the student should optimally be afforded the following:

  • Real-world work experience in a field related to their major
  • One or more employees who will have the time and patience to train, mentor and supervise
  • A professional work environment that will be welcoming, communicative and supportive
  • Compensation in the form of payment, on-the-job training and/or college credits


An Internship can be a Good Investment for Your Business

Hiring an intern can prove to be a very cost-effective endeavor for your business, and when well-managed, can significantly increase workplace productivity. Erase the tired image of an intern schlepping coffee and making printer copies. Today’s interns can provide a wealth of valuable contributions to small and large businesses alike.

For small businesses in particular, interns can offer expertise in areas where a business may be lacking, and provide insight into developing a more successful future:

  • Social media launch and/or development
  • Assistance with digital marketing
  • Website design and development
  • Helping with small projects

On the flip side, training and supervising an inexperienced and immature intern could turn out to be costly. When interviewing a prospective intern candidate, be sure to look for qualities of punctuality, maturity and professionalism in addition to assessing an intern’s level of competence.

A Potential Way for Growing Businesses to Find Future Employees

More than ever, companies today are looking at internships as a great recruiting tool. In fact, some organizations hire interns with the sole purpose of training future full-time employees. And that’s because internships can be a dependable way to find someone who will be a good and productive fit for your organization. At the same time, it allows interns a chance to see if they enjoy working in a particular field, and to determine if your company is a good professional and cultural fit.

Hiring interns with a good work record as full-time employees can save employers time and money that would have otherwise gone to attracting, interviewing and training viable job candidates. To sweeten the pot, studies show that the retention rate of employees who starts out as interns is higher than those who do not.

RELATED: How to Attract and Hire Recent College Graduates

Paid Versus Unpaid Internships

Although there has been no official count of unpaid versus paid internships in the US, word out there is that overall there are now more paid than unpaid.

Part of the reason is that the United States Department of Labor (DOL) stepped up enforcement nationwide on employers who improperly classify interns as unpaid interns. The Fair Labor Standards Act generally considers internships with “for-profit” private sector employers as “employment” and thus those interns are required to be paid at least the minimum wage, and overtime. (Non-profit and public sector employers are treated more leniently by the DOL, and generally are allowed to accept non-paid work.)

There is, though, an exclusion for “for-profit” private sector employers. If an internship meets the six criteria below (courtesy of the DOL Wage and Hour Division), the employer is excluded from the requirement of paying wages:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an education environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and;
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Many small businesses today are unlikely to meet these criteria. It is critical that employers find out beforehand if they are required by law to pay an intern, and then follow the letter of the law. This will prevent potential lawsuits or federal enforcement penalties for illegal unpaid internships. Employers can visit the Wage and Hour Division website at http://www.wagehour.dol.gov and/or call their toll-free helpline at 1-866-487-9243 for additional information or clarification.

In challenging economic times, an unpaid internship can present quite a financial hardship for struggling students. One local college student commented on his own recent internships: “I had two internship experiences; the first being an unpaid internship for a campaign, and the second a paid internship for a labor union. The unpaid internship was rough because you're still putting in all the hours of a regular job but not making a dime. Worse, you need to pay for your own commuting expenses, so it ended up costing me money to work. It’s something you have to do to get work experience for a real paying job though... I guess it pays off in the end one way or another.”

Willy Franzen, a former intern and founder of Onedayonejob.com, posed a question in his blog “Are Unpaid Internships Illegal?” … “If an employer can’t figure out how to put you to good enough use to make more than minimum wage off of your labor, is it really a company that you want to be interning for?”

Virtual Internships

Virtual internships are on the rise, where students work on specific tasks off-site and then check in with their work supervisor on a regular basis. What’s typically needed of the student is a cell phone, computer and Internet access. Research, information technology, marketing, sales, and social media development are some of the more common remote tasks of virtual interns.

For students, the benefits of virtual internship include saving money on commuting costs and being better able to fit work time into busy school schedules. It also opens up a vista of intern opportunities that do not rely on geographic proximity, particularly for students who live in isolated areas or have a lack of public or private transportation.

A small start-up entrepreneur with limited office space might fare well with a virtual intern. Other benefits to employers include having a larger pool of students to choose from and saving on things you won’t need to furnish, like computers and office equipment.

But with a remote internship, are students getting a true internship experience? And can employers properly train, supervise and receive optimal productivity from a person 3,000 miles away they’ve never met?

For students who don’t mind the absence of a physical work presence and the camaraderie an office experience can provide, virtual internships are a viable option. And employers need to take care that the student is an independent self-starter who can work productively without frequent supervision.

How to Get Started

OK, you’re ready to take the plunge. You’ll need to attract and interview candidates for your intern position. If you’ve got a decent social media presence, it could be as easy as posting internship positions on Twitter and Facebook. You can also contact local high schools, colleges and universities where career counselors can match students’ strengths, abilities and majors with your company needs. Sites such as Internships.com, Enternships.com (for entrepreneurial internships), and Internweb.com are also good resources and many allow employers to post internship listings for free.

Related: The Pros and Cons of Hiring Temporary Employees

Copyright 2011, Attard Communications, Inc.

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About the author:
Patricia Schaefer is a staff writer for Business Know-How. She can be reached by email at pschaefer@businessknowhow.com 

 

 
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