5 Do's and Don'ts for Hiring Summer Interns


As a new business owner, you have no choice but to juggle everything yourself from collecting the cash to taking out the trash.  It all falls on your shoulders, and sometimes it feels as though there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done.

Summer interns can be a great way for a small business owner to get an extra set of hands for little or no money.  Most colleges have summer intern programs for students who are interested in getting real world, practical experience.  They get the benefit of building their resume, and you get the help you need.

If you think an intern might be right for your business here are a few tips to keep in mind.

No. 1: Make it Valuable.

Don’t dump the grunt work on the intern.  Sure you can ask them to do some of those types of tasks, but you should also give them an opportunity to really contribute.  Consider assigning them their own project that they see through from start to finish.

No. 2: Communicate Regularly.

Most likely the intern won’t have much work experience, if any at all. Check in with them regularly.  Keep the lines of communication open so they feel comfortable asking questions.

No. 3: Put Out the Welcome Mat.

If you have other employees, make sure you include the intern and make them feel part of the team.  Invite them to meetings or take them on sales calls so they can learn about your business.  You might identify an excellent future employee.

No. 4: Be Flexible.

Remember, your intern is a student and there may be summer activities which will interfere with his/her work schedule.  Set reasonable expectations for work hours, but be flexible.

No. 5: Do You Have to Pay Your Summer Intern? 

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has a broad definition of who qualifies as an employee.  Basically the law defines “employ” as including to “suffer or permit to work.”  So anyone who is permitted to suffer and work for you must be compensated under the law or the services they perform.  Because there has been a significant amount of abuse in this area, the Department of Labor is cracking down on businesses who try to circumvent the law.

The exception to this law for trainees: The Department of Labor has a list of criteria which must be met before you can categorize someone as a trainee vs. an intern.  It’s a tough standard to meet.  You can find all the information on the Department of Labor’s website.  But as an example, one of the criteria for a trainee is that the employer providing the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern and on occasion its business operations may actually be impeded.  Not exactly what you’re looking for.

The bottom line:  Interns can help you grow your business and may wind up being long-term employees if they are a good fit.  But don’t try to get something for nothing.

Susan Solovic is a small business consultant and New York Times bestselling author.