Is Hiring an Intern Right for Your Small Business?

Consider what you’re likely to get, and what you’ll need to give.
intern and mentor at computer
Hiring an intern can help give you a new perspective, does it make sense for your small business? (Photo: Jack Frog)

Have you ever wondered if an internship program would benefit your small business? Hiring an intern can give you a chance to share your knowledge and also get a fresh perspective on your

Ross ODonovan Anyintern

Ross O’Donovan, co-founder of Anyintern.com, believes that teaching someone about your business can help bring inefficiencies to light that may have originally been overlooked. (Photo: Ross O’Donovan)

business, not to mention get a project done.

The time may be ripe. “There has been a significant shift in recent years in the business landscape and this is being reflected in the overwhelming number of students seeking startups over the corporate world as a much more appealing place to work and grow their career,” said Ross O’Donovan, co-founder of Anyintern.com.

One small business owner he worked with noted that while training and teaching somebody the ins and outs of your business, you are forced to confront potential issues and inefficiencies that you may have overlooked. “Our interns have absolutely pushed our business forward,” O’Donovan said.

Here are five factors to consider before you decide to move forward.

Can you put an intern to work?

Interns are there to get training and experience that can help them become employed. The Small Business Administration suggests you consider these questions before you bring one on:

  • 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?

Do you have time to train an intern?

“Probably the most burdensome aspect of anyone who is learning, intern or not, is the amount of time it takes to integrate them with the business and process,” said Alex Hrynkiewicz, marketing manager for marketing startup Limelight Platform. “At the very least there is a heavy time commitment on their supervisor to ensure they receive a proper introduction.”

George Popescu, founder and editor in chief of Lending Times, agreed. “Some of them do not know very much and they require a lot of guidance. It may take more time to train them or make them productive than the amount of help they provide.”

O’Donovan of Anyintern.com noted that while the positives far outweigh the negatives when it comes to hiring interns, there can be problems. “We have regularly had small business owners complain about hiring interns who are there just to get the credit and not contribute. The main incentive for hiring interns is that they will help the business grow in some small way, so an unenthusiastic intern is considered a missed opportunity, especially for a small business.”

On the other hand, Popescu said interns are usually extremely motivated, and they learn fast. “Because they know they are being selected and will only be kept if they do a good work they are among the hardest and best working people,” he said.

Can you afford to pay them?

The U.S. Labor Department has specified conditions in the Fair Labor Standards Act under which employers do not have to pay interns. If your intern position meets all of these criteria, you are not required to pay him or her:

The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.

  • The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.
  • The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff.
  • 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.
  • The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.
  • The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.If your internship agreement does not meet all of these criteria, you must pay your interns.

Ronald Schmedly, president of DefensiveDriving.org, said, “I have always paid our interns. If you are asking true effort out of someone, I feel they should be compensated. Yes, they are gaining experience, but money motivates all, so why not take care of the people who are trying to help you.”

O’Donovan said that while the general consensus from all the businesses he deals with is that interns should be paid, there is a gray area where small startups that cannot afford to pay an intern are concerned; they can offer invaluable hands-on experience that larger, paying companies don’t always provide.

Do you need a pipeline for future full-time employees?

It’s not uncommon for interns to become full-time employees after they graduate, making an internship program an efficient way to fill open positions.

Popescu of Lending Times said he found internships to be by far the best way to find employees. “With interns you can really test at work, you will have a much better success ratio and the process of selection will also be cost effective. This prevents you having to hire, test and fire employees repeatedly until you find the right one.”

How to find interns

The first place to look for interns is within the network of your staff and community. “We have found interns via friends and existing employees. This option works surprisingly well,” Popescu said.

Local universities are obvious sources of interns. Both Popescu and Schmedly posted internship opportunities with local college career service centers.

And of course there are websites to facilitate your search. These include InternMatch, Internships.com, Anyintern.com, LinkedIn and the new Department of Labor’s Summer Jobs+ Bank.

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