How to Hire an Intern

Perhaps by some miracle business has picked up and you need some help,  maybe for just a few hours each week.  You foresee that your need for help could last for some time and you’re ready to commit to a trial of at least six months.  You don’t have much money to spare,  but see that you’re probably losing money as you spend time performing certain functions that could  be handed over to less expensive labor,  which would allow you to focus on the vital aspects of client projects,  search for more billable hours and engage in other business-building activities.  Bringing on an intern may be the solution to your dilemma.

If you live in a locale with at least one college or university,  then you may have a source of interns to help you with business needs.  Interns can be a valuable resource,  especially for those who cannot afford to hire full-time employees.  With some planning,  a busy Freelancer can devise a win-win situation for both business and intern.

Plan to  offer a paid  internship.   Unpaid internships narrow your candidate pool more than you may realize.  In today’s economy,  many students must generate an income.  College has become wildly expensive and students and/or their parents often go into significant debt to finance their education.  Daddy may not be able to send spending money every month.

Paid internships provide a student with the tangible benefits of relevant work experience,  a reference for future full-time employment or graduate school application and a much-needed paycheck.  Moreover,  unpaid internships may present a legal snafu.  Strict federal and sometime state guidelines limit the hiring of unpaid interns to discourage student exploitation.  If you can find an intern whose financial aid package includes work/study,  the grant will absorb some of the hourly rate cost and save you money.

Start your search by thinking carefully about which tasks can be farmed out to an employee.  Be mindful that internships are not designed to provide businesses with low-level labor performed at low pay,  but rather to provide apprentice-level  learning opportunities.  Be realistic about what you can offer an intern.  Be prepared also to provide adequate instruction and supervision,  because you will be dealing with a young person who will need some guidance.

Next,  contact the school’s career services department or academic department that aligns with your professional needs  (e.g., communications or computer science or business).  Colleges are very eager to help match interns with prospective employers because that makes them look good.  Be ready with a basic job description and qualifications  (like web design or writing skills),  as well as what level of students you will work with  ( seniors, most likely). 

Remember also that students live on the academic calendar.  That means they disappear from about December 15 – January 15 for Christmas break,  they may disappear for a week during the April spring break and they may go home on May 15,  unless they can afford to stay in town for the summer or it’s convenient to commute in.

Plan to interview at least three or four candidates before you make your selection.  When you make an offer,  institute a 30 – 60 day trial period,  at which point you can decide whether the arrangement is working out.  Create the conditions for success by thinking through and communicating expectations clearly.  Discuss with your intern what s/he will be able to learn and be transparent about how performance will be measured.  Expect to spend time supervising your intern and maybe also explaining things twice. 

Empower your intern to show some autonomy and creativity once things get rolling.  Invite your intern to make some suggestions and offer opinions.  You never know,  you might learn something useful and you’ll show the intern that s/he is valuable. 

Always treat your intern with respect.  Assign meaningful work and provide the required training,  tools and follow-up to ensure that tasks are performed satisfactorily.  Offering an internship is your chance to mentor a young person and the rewards can be personal as well as professional for both parties. 

In the ideal circumstance,  your intern will give you the time to expand billable hours to such a level that you can offer to hire him/her full-time,  the ultimate win-win situation.  Good luck!

Thanks for reading,



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