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How To Set Up an Internship Program for Your Small Business

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How To Set Up an Internship Program for Your Small Business

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: May 9, 2012 Updated: August 18, 2015

Looking to hire an intern this summer? More and more businesses are planning on it. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), employers plan on hiring 8.5 percent more college students in 2012 for summer internships than they did last year.

Internship programs are a smart recruitment strategy for small businesses, allowing you to nurture and feed your full-time hiring efforts. A separate study by NACE found that nearly 90 percent of students who took part in internships said they would accept an offer of a full-time job from their internship employer. 

Here are six tips to help guide you through the process of setting up an internship program, and information on a new government initiative – the Summer Jobs+ Bank – that can help:

1. Review Your Needs

Remember, an intern will be looking for good experience, so be sure your needs match those of the interns. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How can an intern help you with your business goals?
  • Do you have enough work to support an intern? Think about short-term and long-term assignments.
  • Who will supervise and mentor your intern?
  • What ramp-up and ongoing training can you provide?
  • Do you have available office space and other resources?
  • What about seasonal highs and lows? Could you use an intern beyond the summer months?

It will take several weeks to recruit and hire an intern, so the further in advance you plan, the better.

2. The Recruitment Process

Hiring an intern requires similar steps to hiring a full-time employee. You’ll need to write a job description with real work assignments and defined objectives. Decide in advance how the intern will be supervised and mentored, and how the student will benefit financially and experientially from your program.

There are several options for searching for interns:

  • Online via the Summer Jobs+ Bank – This summer, the government is stepping in to help connect small businesses with young people seeking internship and other employment opportunities via the Department of Labor’s Summer Jobs+ Bank. Businesses can post internships directly with any internet job site that is participating in the Jobs+ Bank (these include Internships.com, AfterCollege.com, or LinkedIn). Check out information for employers for details about the program.
  • School/College Career Services Offices – 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.

4. Paying Interns (and the Legal Lowdown About Unpaid Interns)

If you are serious about attracting the right talent and creating a program that nurtures your future workforce, then your compensation needs to reflect this (the average hourly rate for paid bachelor degree-level interns is currently $16.21). Can’t quite afford that? Unpaid internships are a legal option; however, there are many limits on the work unpaid interns can perform:

  • 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.
  • 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.   

5. Other Benefits You Might Want to Offer?

Some of the more common benefits offered to interns include social activities, paid holidays, and recognition of education time as service time if they are hired to a full-time position. Other benefits to consider include scholarships, flex time, and one-on-one formal mentoring (take your intern on business trips, let them accompany you at strategic meetings, be immersive). 

6. Important Workplace and Labor Laws to Consider

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.  

Got questions about setting up an internships program or working with interns? Post it below.



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


You can also get one step ahead by seeking an advocate or reference for your business from college professors or staff members
Is there a downloadable, boilerplate agreement (form) for hiring a non-paid intern? thnx
What is the procedure to alert SBA to possible violations this set of laws?
You should contact the Department of Labor for any labor law violations: http://www.dol.gov/dol/contact/
I am currently an intern at a company that matches interns with companies (interesting: intern at an internship company, yes) and I really value this post being out there. I have been exposed to so many of the great opportunities that are available and one of the most important things is having a solid job description. Including the specifics of the job functions is really important, but displaying any benefits/perks really increases the amount of applications you will get. Unpaid positions will be much more likely to receive apps if they really work hard on the content of a listing. if you want to look at a copy of a compelling listing check this out (unpaid job with tons of apps):  This post was edited to remove a link. Please review our Community Best Practices (http://www.sba.gov/community) for more information about how best to participate in our online discussions. Thank you. Also, if your'e interested in additional info on how to write a listing/set up an internship: This post was edited to remove a link. Please review our Community Best Practices (http://www.sba.gov/community) for more information about how best to participate in our online discussions. Thank you.
You can also get one step ahead by seeking an advocate or reference for your business from college professors or staff members.
Chances are high that when your intern arrives you will not work with them one on one rather give the responsibility to one of your other employees to train and manage. If you do this, make sure that the employee assigned is clear on your expectations. An intern is an invaluable opportunity to find good future talent, make inroads with current employees, and provide them new skill sets.
It's ironic to see this as I just tried to post a summer internship position on the white house summer jobs bank. After filling in all the details and submitting, it said 'sorry this page has been moved' or something. It didn't work at all. I think it's a little late for some summer interns, anyway, because many schools end in May so they get a jump start on summer work. Oh well.
I really hope that more employers are going to read this post and realize that is not such a painstaking process to hire an intern for the summner. I am from the other side on the matter, as am looking for internships and have to admit that sometimes, the employers have been reluctant to hire intern,especially when their business is not that big! Thanks for sharing all of these important point and advantages!!
Excellent post. Another area that is important in the lives of young adults working is the Workforce Readiness summer work opportunities. This made "headline news" within the DOL website with a lot of important agencies involved. Our local SHRM professional organization assisted with the interview process of the young adults. It was impressive. Being a part of the summer youth opportunities within your community would allow you to have youth who could be considered interns but this would also serve another purpose in that it reaches the youth who may not have these opportunites without these wonderful programs and the awesome leaders who bring it together (agencies and employers). Many laws associated with youth employment for both the young adult and prospective employer can be found in abundance. At the end of the first quarter of this year I finished up a course in which I spent more than six months (due to other obligations) researching and designing regarding employment law for youth. Excellent resources are available.


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