Best Practices

AKSourceLink: Internships: A Win-Win for Your Small Business

Published Aug 20, 2013

One of the most common issues for a small business is dealing with staffing shortages. In many cases small businesses do not have the necessary funds to bring on an additional employee. This often means that the current staff is overloaded and leaves potential opportunities on the table. More small businesses are turning to college interns to provide additional staffing for their business.  Hiring an intern is a relatively low cost way to complete a project that you might otherwise not have the capacity to complete. While most large companies have well-established internship programs that hire hundreds of interns per year, small businesses are often left wondering how to craft their own internship programs. Here are some things to keep in mind when looking to hire an intern for your business.


1)      Interns are not free- Many companies attempt to arrange unpaid internships. While the student is certainly doing the internship in order to gain additional experience and to make connections in their field it is important to compensate them for their work. Remember that the intern is providing value to your company; you do not have to pay them the same amount as you would a consultant or full time employee, but it is important to recognize the value they provide. It is also good to remember that college students are often living on tight budgets; you do not want a qualified intern to turn down a position because they cannot cover living expenses. Additionally it is illegal in most areas to have an unpaid intern who is performing work that you would otherwise pay someone to execute.

2)      Have a plan- The majority of internships last between 10-15 weeks long; make sure to best utilize this time by having a specific plan or project for the intern to work on. Oftentimes interns are left trying to figure out exactly what they should be doing or are tasked with busy-work. Set a specific goal that you want the intern to accomplish - it may be a white paper that they individually draft or project they work on as part of a team. It is important to create challenging goals, but keep goals realistic considering the time line in which the project will be executed.

3)      Give them freedom- While this may seem to contradict #2, it is important to have structure but not to be overbearing. Install the basic structure of the internship and the goals that need to be accomplished and then let the intern run with the project. You can be there to assist them along the way, but allow the intern to own the project. This is beneficial to the intern in that it forces them to grow and expand their own skills and analytical capacity by overcoming obstacles along the way. You should make sure that they are not veering too far off track but do not hold their hand along every step. Giving the intern freedom is also important for the business as it allows the possibility to gain new insights or perspectives. Remember that part of the reason you are hiring an intern is to provide excess capacity for your business - if you are investing all of your additional time helping the intern, then your business is not gaining experience from the relationship.

4)      Get creative- Maybe you do not have the money to hire a full time intern or maybe you do not have the office space for an extra person. While your situation may not be ideal, it does not mean that you should forgo pursuing an intern. It may be possible to hire an intern to work part time. It is also possible to set up a remote internship where the intern works off site; they could be working from their home down the street or in a city across the country. There are countless free tools that make sharing information and communicating easy, no matter where the parties are located.  Get creative to create a situation that works for both you and the intern.

Internships can be great opportunities for both the intern and the company.  Look down the road at the local university or call up your own alma mater. There are qualified and eager students all over the country who are looking to gain practical work experience. When crafting the internship remember to create a relationship that is mutually beneficial. Not only will you be gaining additional work capacity and helping a student along their career path, but you may be looking at a future fulltime employee. When the time comes that you have the ability to hire a fulltime employee, former interns give you a great starting place when looking for candidates!

Ready to start recruiting? Check out this great blog post for best practices on recruiting interns for startups.

Content contributed by Kyle Ragan, AKSourceLink.
AKSourceLink is a proud affiliate of 
U.S.SourceLink, America’s largest resource network for entrepreneurs.