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Hiring Interns; 6 Tips for Setting up an Internship Program

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Hiring Interns; 6 Tips for Setting up an Internship Program

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: June 15, 2010 Updated: March 28, 2013

Employers will bring on more interns this year than they did last year, according to results of a 2010 Internship Survey* conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).



Setting up an internship program for your small business is a smart and rewarding way to recruit talent. I;s also a proven way to nurture potential full time employees- (NACE statistics consistently show that 20-25 percent of new hires are sourced from employer- own internship programs).


But how do you go about recruiting interns? Here are six tips to help guide you through the recruitment, management and regulatory side of setting up an internship program:


1. Assess your Needs

    Start by assessing what projects an intern can assist with. Interns will be looking for good experience, variety, and a great resume item' so think beyond simply passing off mundane tasks and consider workload, what support other staff can offer, availability of office space, and so on.


    Do't forget your seasonable business highs and lows. Could you support an intern program all year or will your needs vary? It will take several weeks to recruit and hire an intern, so the further out you can plan the better.


    2. The Recruitment Process

      Getting ready to recruit an intern involves much the same process as does hiring a full-time employee. Yo'll need to develop a job description with real work assignments and objectives listed. I's also a good idea to outline how the intern will be supervised as well as how your program will benefit the student' both educationally and financially (and w'll talk about compensation later).


      Next yo'll need to find a way to advertise your internship opportunity. Many schools and colleges operate internship programs through their career services offices (in exchange for student credits). Getting registered with one of these programs can provide a level of accreditation as well as access to a pool of motivated and screened talent.


      You can also get one step ahead by seeking an advocate or reference for your business from college professors or staff members. This is why it often makes sense to approach colleges that you know or have attended.


      3. Demonstrate the Validity of Your Business

        As part of your recruitment efforts, be aware that yo'll need to ensure that your business is officially registered as a legal business entity.


        4. Paid or Unpaid Interns?

          Gone are the days when interns were considered free help or treated as lackeys* - but just how do you compensate interns?


          While the law is very clear on the fact that unpaid internships are not illegal, there are very strict guidelines that employers must adhere to when determining whether you are required to pay your interns or not.


          According to this article by fellow blogger, Nicole DeGaetano, The Truth Behind Unpaid Internships, ...the basic principle behind a legal unpaid internship is simple - 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, answering emails, etc


          So, legally, what can an unpaid intern do?


          DeGaetano continues: Unpaid interns can shadow other employees and perform duties that don't have a business need. For example, a bakery may allow an apprentice to decorate a tray of cookies that will not be sold to customers. Because the task was only a training exercise for the apprentice and the bakery did not receive any benefit from that work, the bakery would not have to pay that student worker for their time


          Read DeGaetano's article for more information on when an internship can be unpaid, the limitations of the type of work that can be performed, and how to stay within the law when employing student workers.


          While many students will work for no pay, you may wish to provide some form of wages. There are no strict guidelines on what you must pay so it's a good idea to check with your local college career office or to talk to small business community resources such as your local SBA office or Small Business Development Center (scroll down for links to organizations in your area).


          5. Other Benefits You Might Want to Offer?

            According to NACE, the most commonly offered benefits to interns* are ...planned social activities, paid holidays, and counting experiential education work time as service time if hired for a full-time position.


            Other benefits you might want to consider include offering scholarships, flex time (be patient with interns, they are not used to the 9-5 routine), and access to in-house training.


            One of the greatest benefits to student interns is simply gaining exposure to successful and mentoring professionals. This can be achieved by taking interns on business trips, letting them accompany you at conferences or speaking engagements, and so on.


            6. Other Workplace and Labor Laws to Consider

              Student interns are generally considered as part of the at will employment status which means that they can be terminated like other employees for poor conduct. Likewise employers are responsible for protecting the health and safety of interns and maintaining compliance with workplace discrimination laws. Some states also require that interns are covered by worker compensation insurance.


              For more tips on recruiting, managing and nurturing interns read this great article from NACE: 15 Best Practices for Internship Programs*.


              Additional Resources


              Related Articles


              * Note: Hyperlink directs reader to non-government Web site.


              About the Author:

              Caron Beesley


              Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

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