Does Your Small Business Need an Intern?

Are you interested in mentoring a young entrepreneur? Do you need an extra pair of hands around the office? It might be time to look for an intern for your small business.

What is an Internship?

According to, the modern concept of internships springs from the medieval apprenticeship, in which skilled laborers (often craftsmen) would teach a young person their trade and, in exchange, that person would agree to work for the teacher for a certain length of time.

Today, an internship is an opportunity offered by an employer to potential employees to work at a firm for a fixed, limited period of time. Interns are usually undergraduates or students, and most internships last for any length of time between one week and 12 months. Interns do not need to be potential employees; they can simply be looking for professional experience.

Why Hire an Intern?

Interns aren’t just for grunt work. There are many ways hiring an intern can benefit your business:

  • Fresh Perspective: As a small business owner, you are probably multitasking most of the time and running on top speed. An intern has the ability to look at the big picture and come in with fresh observations and suggestions.
  • Project Support: Is there a project that you’ve been struggling to complete? Having a motivated intern can help you plow through any tasks you need to get done to move the project forward.
  • Technology Refresh: Technology evolves so rapidly, it difficult for anyone to stay on top of it. An intern can introduce new technology solutions that can help streamline operations and make the busy entrepreneur’s life easier.
  • Identifying Possible Future Employees: There’s no better way to vet a potential employee than working beside them day in and day out. You might just find your next star worker.

Do You Need to Pay the Intern?

The Department of Labor has very clear rules regarding paying interns. Under the DOL’s test, all of the following criteria must be satisfied for an intern of any age – student or adult — to be properly classified as an unpaid intern: (1) The internship is similar to training provided in an educational environment, (2) The intern is the primary beneficiary of the internship, (3) Regular employees are not displaced by the intern; instead, the intern works under their close supervision, (4) The employer can derive no immediate advantage from the internship; (5) The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job when the internship ends, and (6) Both the employer and the intern understand that the internship is unpaid.

Where Should You Look?

If you know where to look, you’ll find the best candidates. Contact local colleges and trade schools and ask if they refer students to local businesses for internships. The schools might have a website or other digital space where they post available internships. In many communities, there are charter high schools that focus on a particular curriculum – science, journalism, the arts, etc. If there are any in your area, speak with the career coordinator who might be able to introduce you to interested students.

The Bottom Line

An internship program has the potential to create win/win situations. Small business owners get the advantage of working with a gung-ho student eager to learn and students gain valuable “real world” experience. Just make sure you are following the letter of the law regarding your program, especially compensation and follow the school credit guidelines. Ask your current employees how they could use support to maximize the intern’s valuable time. A great source of information, although not specific to small businesses, is Additionally, the Small Business Administration has an informative article to get you started: How to Set Up an Internship Program for Your Small Business.