Thinking of Hiring Interns for Your Small Business? Read This First

Pete Jansons

If you haven’t explored the idea of hiring interns at your small business, it might be time to start. Many college students prefer internships at small businesses rather than large ones because they feel they’ll receive more hands-on training and attention from mentors. While these workers of the future get their feet wet in the “real world,” you stand to gain benefits such as:

  • A stronger talent pipeline. Today’s awesome intern can be tomorrow’s valuable employee. With an intern, you’ll get to experience their work ethic, performance and cultural fit firsthand, enabling you to extend a job offer with confidence down the road. Likewise, interest in your small business and bonds with its employees grow during an internship, leading candidates to keep you top of mind after graduation. And since interns are bound to mention your small business to fellow students, you’ll attract even more attention.
  • Eager, educated help. Small businesses usually appreciate all the assistance they can get. An extra pair of enthusiastic hands can help lighten the load for your busy staff or free them up to perform more complex duties. Also, new people bring in fresh ideas and specialized skill sets that can energize the team.

Finding Great Talent

Just as you would when recruiting for a permanent position, create a job description for the intern you seek for your small business. This action helps you pinpoint which qualities are most desirable and what tasks you’d like the intern to accomplish. Also, a clear picture encourages candidates to self select, which saves you weeding time.

Contacting the career services office of educational institutions in your area or that interest you (perhaps even your own alma mater) often proves a convenient route to gathering a pool of worthy candidates. Other options include posting on internship-specific job sites, promoting your internship program via social media, and turning to your network for recommendations.


If you equate internships with free labor, be warned: The U.S. Department of Labor has a strict six-point test to determine whether an internship can be unpaid. Internships in the for-profit sector most often will be viewed as employment, which requires payment of minimum wage or higher.

But beyond legal considerations, offering compensation sets the stage for attracting a more qualified pool of candidates. Top performers likely are evaluating a variety of interesting possibilities, so payment keeps your small business competitive and shows that you value what they’ll be contributing. You’ll also gain greater diversity among applicants because financial necessity keeps a large number of students from even considering unpaid positions.

And besides the fairness of at least a modest wage for the work interns perform for your small business, think of payment as a long-term investment. Research shows companies that pay their interns have a significantly higher chance of retaining them as future employees.



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