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What You Need to Know Before Hiring an Intern

According to Forbes, approximately 1.5 million internships are filled each year in the United States. As we know, internships can be a great way for startups to work with talented students or graduates. If you are a small business, you can especially benefit from getting a full-time intern. 

But hiring an intern can be tricky, especially if you don’t know where to start. In addition, in recent years, there has been some bad press about internships, “stemming from concerns about the popularity of unpaid internships as an illegal and unethical way to gain cheap labor,” according to an article by Brighter Box. Therefore it is especially important to get clear on the laws and regulations surrounding internships. You also have to take into consideration college credit options, the type of work you are to offer the student and creating a mentorship program. While we have touched on creating a summer internship before, we have created this more comprehensive guide to teach you what you need to know about hiring an intern.  

Understanding Labor Laws

If you want to hire an intern, it is important that you’re clear on the relevant employment rights. Unpaid internships (or only paying expenses) have become the norm. Fresh graduates and students on school vacations are so desperate to enter the workforce that they will forgo a salary for a short time to get something down on their resume Some employers are all too happy to take advantage of this and will only offer to cover travel and lunch costs. Aside from the dubious ethical arguments, employers are more than likely to be in breach of minimum wage legislation. 

According to the FSLA, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), many interns working at for-profit companies are considered employees and subject to the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime requirements. If you’re looking to hire an unpaid intern, they must meet the requirements of the Primary Beneficiary Test. However, there are a few exceptions. First and foremost, you and the intern must clearly understand that there’s no expectation of compensation. The training you provide your intern should be similar to what they would get in an educational environment. The internship must be during a limited period but long enough to learn the necessary skills or knowledge. The tasks you delegate to your intern must complement, rather than displace the work of your paid employees, and provides significant educational benefits to the intern. The internship is tied to formal education by the integration of coursework, or they receive academic credit and correspond to the academic calendar and commitments. And lastly, both you and the intern understand that at the end of the internship there’s no promise of a full-time job.

Note: It’s important to know that these are federal requirements and each state has additional rules you must adhere to. Please check with your state laws before making any decisions.

College Credit or Salary? 

You must decide if you want to hire an intern to receive a salary, college credit, or both. Hiring an intern for a small salary opens up the talent pool to recent graduates or people not enrolled in college, but you must have the budget to pay the intern at least minimum wage.

Hiring an intern for college credit gives you free labor, but you must adhere to the strict rules of the Primary Beneficiary Test (see above), and the internship must provide educational value. You also might be subject to additional paperwork from the intern’s academic institution. This decision should be made before posting the job, so you know which candidates meet the qualifications.

Length of Time 

The timeline for hiring an intern can vary depending on availability on both sides. A key factor in determining proper internship length is that it should be long enough so that an intern can get into the rhythm of the position and complete deliverables that are valuable to both the student or recent graduate as well as the employer. Most companies and schools will agree that an average internship of 3-4 months, with 20-35 hours a week, coinciding with a student’s typical summer period is reasonable.  But if a position is only for 5-10 hours a week, you might want to consider a 6-8 month long interns. College graduates tend to have plenty of availability and are often more able to fit into your schedule.

Create a Clear and Effective Job Listing 

The best intern job descriptions do two things: They give potential interns the information they need to decide if they could be a good fit for the role, and they convince those potential applicants that this is a role they want. You may need to get creative when posting job descriptions for internships, especially if you’re posting one for college credit. Visiting local universities to talk with their career development team is the first place to start. Many colleges have job and internship fairs, and they may invite you to have a booth where you can meet prospective applicants in-person. Most recent graduates and current students are also active on social media, so you can post the job description to your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts for a wider reach.  

Provide Training 

All internships, regardless of whether the intern is getting paid, should provide educational value. The intern is taking the position at a free or reduced rate and wants to get something in return. You should not only train the intern on how to do the job but about the industry and workforce in general. For instance, you could teach them about benefits, 401k’s, and office etiquette, or allow your interns to go to important meetings with their boss and take notes.


As a host organization and creator of your internship program, you will need to provide your interns with periodic performance evaluations. Written evaluations are your best options. For starters, written evaluations most clearly communicate which areas of intern performance need adjustment. In contrast, with informal, oral evaluations, interns may not remember everything the supervisor says, therefore it’s less likely interns will make the proper improvements if they can’t recall all the issues they are supposed to correct. Written intern evaluations can also provide proof of the supervisors’ performance reviews, which aligns with the many laws and regulations surrounding internship that we learned about above. You will want to keep all your documentation throughout the entire program. Especially these reviews. In the case of future disciplinary action—or if an intern is wondering why they were not invited back or offered full-time employment—a written evaluation eliminates the intern’s ability to contend, “I was never told I needed to improve in that area.” As with all areas of business, it’s important to cover all your bases and have the proper documentation to prove it.  

Want more resources on hiring interns? Get in touch with the Abode team to connect!

“Abode provides a solution that allows us to better connect with Gen Z talent in a way that is engaging to them. It offers a way for Elevance Health to enhance our brand and coin ourselves as an employer of choice for college students and graduates. Working with Abode is an easy and seamless experience.”
Brooke Smith
University Relations Manager,
Elevance Health (fka Anthem)