4 Mistakes Not to Make When Hiring Summer Interns

Author: Rieva Lesonsky | May 19, 2015

If you haven’t started looking for your summer interns yet, it’s time to step up your game and get the word out. According to internships.com, the best timeframe to advertise an internship job opening is seven to 10 weeks before the intern’s expected start date. Luckily, there’s a large pool of talent to choose from with so many students looking to gain real world experience.

Spreading the word is easy enough. Pay a visit to your local college or simply go online to such sites as Internships, InternMatch, and InternJobs. If you want to develop an internship program that doesn’t put you in jeopardy of violating Department of Labor laws or attracting the attention of the IRS, make sure you don’t make the following mistakes:

  1. Not paying your interns. In most cases, both state and federal laws require paying interns. Paid interns are considered regular employees and subject to the same employment laws and regulations, such as paying them minimum wage and paying them overtime if they work more than 40 hours per week.
  2. Not following the rules for unpaid internships. To offer an unpaid internship, The Department of Labor has six specific criteria you must follow:
    1. Even though it includes actual work in the facilities of the employer, the internship is similar to training that would be given in an educational environment
    2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern
    3. The intern does not displace regular employees but works under close supervision of existing staff
    4. 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;
    5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
    6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship. (Check with your state government; some expect interns to be paid at least minimum wage.)
  1. Using the intern for cheap labor. Interns need to do real work; you can’t have them filing papers and running errands. They should be learning skills that can be used in other employment settings. Internships are for educational training. A good rule of thumb to follow is don’t give unpaid interns work that contributes to your company’s operations. This includes any tasks that help you run your business, like documenting inventory, filing papers or answering emails.
  2. Failing to act as a mentor. Interns want to learn and expect to get feedback. Take the time to explain your business and coach the intern throughout the internship. Offering feedback about how to improve their performances and the thing they should know about your industry will be helpful for their futures, so be a good communicator. Establish guidelines such as what to wear on the job, work hours and office rules just as you would for any employee.

The summer intern experience should be a win-win for both employer and intern, so make the most of the relationship. With a little luck, you might find the perfect employee to hire permanently.

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