How to Find a Few Good, Free Employees

Internship programs have never been a secret to big businesses. Today, faced with diminishing staff and increasing pay cuts, more and more small businesses across the nation are wising up to them, too.

Unpaid internships indeed could be called a no-brainer --- interns receive hands-on experience, while businesses get free help. If your start-up or small firm doesn’t have room in the budget to make some needed hires, turning to interns might be the answer.

“Having interns can be a real win-win situation, because you are giving interns the opportunity to learn about a business, but at the same token, businesses can utilize the intern’s skills,” said Nancy Ploeger, President of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.

How can bringing on an intern benefit your business?

Well, other than being less expensive than hiring a full-time employee, companies also benefit from their fresh ideas, can-do attitudes and willingness to learn. College students, and even many recent graduates, are usually more than willing to lend their skills in return for building up a resume and filling up a rolodex.

So, what’s the first step toward launching an internship program at your company?

“As a small business, first you have to figure out what you want,” said Keith Ashmus, a partner at Frantz Ward LLP Law Firm in Cleveland, Ohio, where interns learn the legal ropes.

Ashmus, who is also chairman of the National Small Business Association, said the internship program at Frantz Ward provides an opportunity for interns to decide if they like the surrounding area, job and work that goes into becoming a lawyer. The program is available to both college and high school students.

Do you use interns in your small business? What has been your experience? We'd like to know your thoughts.

An extra hand in the office seems like a simple enough concept, but remember businesses have to follow the laws set forth by the Department of Labor before hiring an intern.

According to the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 (STW), any unpaid-internship program requires the student remain under supervision at all times. Under the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA), an unpaid intern should never displace a regular employee.

After you get the legal work straightened out, where do you go to find a few, good interns?

One spot to look is, a Web site that aims to connect small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs with potential interns. Anyone uploading a resume onto the site has to be a college student, graduate student or recent graduate. The site was founded last year by Cari Sommer and Lauren Porat.

“Urban Interns is a marketplace that connects small businesses with people that are looking for part-time jobs and internships [whether it’s] locally, virtually, paid, unpaid, short-term and ongoing,” Porat said.

Ploeger said the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce recently turned to for help with its latest intern search. Over the past ten years, the Chamber of Commerce has hired two interns from around the world each semester, giving them a chance to get hands-on experience.

“I think the benefit of starting an internship program is getting an extra set of hands to help out,” Sommer said. “There is a pool of talent out their who are really looking to work hard and be the perfect match for business owners who are busy and trying to stay afloat, grow and thrive in this economy.”

With social media becoming an important part of advertising and networking for small businesses, Porat said bringing someone in to execute on social media can be another beneficial opportunity for both parties. Recent graduates are most likely of the Internet generation, allowing them to bring lucrative expertise to any businesses platform.

“I think the benefits of interns are unlimited, and most of the time, they have a lot more technology knowledge than you do," Ploeger said. "So they can come in and bring fresh ideas to your company.”

Lastly, hiring an intern can be used as the rent-before-you-buy option.

“It is a great way for us to train potential employees,” Ashmus said. “We can see if the interns get along with our environment and what their skills are. Meanwhile, all of the training we provide contributes to making a better hiring decision for us, saving us thousands of dollars.”