Hiring an Intern
The career services staff members will do their best to connect you with students who are qualified for an internship in your organization.
Many employers consider internships excellent opportunities to preview the performance of potential employees. Internships rank with personal networking, classified advertising, and Internet searches as primary ways to identify future employees.
- What is an internship?
- How employers benefit
- Creating a program
- Writing job descriptions
- Recruiting interns
- Legal issues
- Managing interns
- Handbook and forms
What is an internship?
An internship is any carefully monitored work or service experience in which a student has intentional learning goals and reflects actively on what he or she is learning throughout the experience. Although internships can vary widely from organization to organization, some common characteristics about internships include:
- It is a time-limited experience that usually lasts about three months and occurs during the fall, spring or summer semesters
- Generally a one-time experience
- May be part of an educational program and carefully monitored and evaluated for academic credit
- Includes objectives, observation, reflection, evaluation, and assessment
- An existing employee working in the department mentors and supervises
- Seeks to establish a reasonable balance between the intern’s learning goals and the specific work tasks of an organization
- Promotes academic, career and/or personal development
Adapted from materials published by the National Society for Experiential Education
How employers can benefit from internships
While the employer is involved in the on-going training and mentoring of interns, the benefits are many and can include the following:
- A year round source of highly motivated pre-professionals
- The opportunity to have new perspectives on various processes, procedures, and programs
- Quality candidates for temporary or seasonal positions and projects
- Increased visibility of your organization on college campuses
- The freedom for professional staff to pursue other important projects and tasks
- A flexible, cost-effective work force that does not require long-term employment commitment
- A proven, cost-effective way to recruit and evaluate potential employees
Adapted from materials published by the National Society for Experiential Education
Creating an internship program plan
Formalizing an internship program with written goals, expectations, and outcomes may address the concerns and needs of management and staff. The main question to answer is, “What does your organization hope to achieve from the program?”
The following questions may assist you in formulating an internship program and plan.
Do you want someone for a specific project?
If so, what are the tasks and objectives of the project? What are the deadlines for completing the tasks and objectives?
What about general support around the workplace?
Does your company need an intern to perform administrative and support functions including data entry, answering telephones, filing, etc.? If so, approximately what percentage of the intern’s time will be spent on these activities?
Will you give the intern a taste of everything your company does?
How will cross-training be structured into the intern’s schedule? How much time will need to be devoted to each department/area? Have employees from each department been designated to mentor the intern on their particular functions?
Will you pay the intern?
If so, how much? Wages vary widely from field to field, will yours be competitive or offer competitive incentives?
Where will you put the intern?
Do you have adequate workspace for them? Will you help make parking arrangements, living arrangements, etc.?
What sort of academic background and experience do you want in an intern?
Decide on standards for quality beforehand – it’ll help you narrow down the choices and find the best candidates.
Who will have the primary responsibility for the intern?
Will that person be a mentor or merely a supervisor? The assignment of a mentor who will work closely with the intern can be essential in creating a successful experience for the organization and the intern.
What will the intern be doing? Be as specific as possible.
Interns, like others in the process of learning, need structure so they don’t become lost, confused or bored.
Do you want to plan a program beyond the work you give your interns?
Will there be special training programs, performance reviews, lunches with executives, or social events? Keep in mind that your interns are walking advertisements for your company. If they have a good experience working for you, they’re likely to tell their friends.
Writing an internship job description
In creating an internship job description, consider the following:
- The purpose of the internship and the particular contributions to the organization’s overall mission
- Duties and essential activities/job functions that will be required
- Expectations regarding outcomes of tasks/projects performed and completed
- Physical and mental requirements, as well as required academic major, minimum GPA, class standing (first-year, sophomore, junior, senior), and any technical or job specific skills the intern would need to work successfully
- Length of the internship and required number of hours per week
- The supervisor responsible for mentoring and evaluating the intern’s progress
- Any training that will be provided
- Application/selection process and who will be responsible for making the final hiring decision
A large part of producing effective position descriptions involves the development of challenging work assignments that complement the student’s academic programs. One way to do this is to design a preliminary list of work activities that will fit the needs of your department/organization. Later, when the intern you select joins your team, you will have a chance to review the list according to the intern’s knowledge and personal work/learning goals.
Click here for a sample not-for-profit internship description.
Click here for a sample for-profit internship description.
Click here for a Internship position description form (fillable Word doc)
The number one tip from employers who have an established internship program is to start recruiting early! This cannot be overemphasized to organizations that want the very best interns. Students begin making commitments to course schedules as much as three months prior to the next semester. In addition, many students work part-time jobs. Begin searching as much as a year in advance and no later than three months before you need the student to begin.
- Develop relationships with local recruitment resources
- Consider attending the INCC Career & Internship fair (held each year in March or April)
- Place ads in college newspapers
- Send information to student organizations
- Post your position on Goshen College’s online job & internship bank
- Post your position online at additional local sites, such as Indiana INTERNnet
Legal issues to consider when hiring interns
Be sure to learn the legal implications of hiring interns. Just like any other workers, interns are subject to legal protection and regulations. Protect yourself and your intern by knowing the laws and consulting with your legal counsel.
Do you have to pay interns?
The U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which applies to all companies that have at least two employees directly engaged in interstate commerce and annual sales of at least $500,000, severely restricts an employer’s ability to use unpaid interns or trainees. It does not limit an employer’s ability to hire paid interns.
You do not have to pay interns who qualify as trainees. The U.S. Department of Labor has outlined six criteria for determining trainee status:
- Interns cannot displace regular employees
- Interns are not guaranteed a job at the end of the internship
- Interns are not entitled to wages during the internship
- Interns must receive training from your organization, even if it somewhat impedes the work
- Interns must get hands-on experience with equipment and processes used in your industry
- Interns’ training must primarily benefit them, not the organization
Even if a student is working through a school program for which he or she is being “paid” in college credits, the student still has the right, under the FLSA, to be paid unless the employer is not deriving any immediate advantage by using him or her.
Paid interns make ideal workers – hungry to learn, eager to make a good impression, and willing to perform a multitude of tasks. The relatively small amount of money employers spend on intern wages and benefits is a good investment because it often produces future, long-term employees.
Workers’ and unemployment compensation
Workers’ compensation boards have found that interns contribute enough to a company to make them employees. It is wise to cover interns under your workers’ compensation policy even though you aren’t required to do so. Student interns are not generally eligible for unemployment compensation at the end of their internship.
The most common types of visas employers will see on college campuses when recruiting international students for internships are the F-1 and J-1 visas. Consult your corporate lawyer or the intern’s school office of international education if you are unfamiliar with the hiring of international interns.
The beginning days of an internship are often its defining days. When you give interns their first tasks, you are signaling what can be expected in the future. If you give them nothing or very little to do, it sends a message that this job will be easy – and boring. Interns don’t want that, and of course, neither do employers.
Experience shows that employers who take adequate time at the beginning of the internship to orient student interns reap productivity and effectiveness more quickly than those who do not. In acclimating interns, please take time initially to:
- Explain the mission of the organization
- Explain the organization structure
- Outline organizational rules, policies, decorum, and expectations
- Define the intern’s responsibilities
Click here to read the top ten concerns of interns.
The students will look to you as a mentor who will assist their transition from the classroom to the work environment. Since the internship is an extension of the learning process, you will need to provide opportunities to bridge the two experiences.
We suggest that you meet with you interns regularly. During these meetings the students can:
- Report on the status of a project
- Ask questions
- Learn how their work is contributing to the organization
- Participate in an evaluation of their strengths
- Discuss areas needing growth and development
- Get a sense of what kind of work lies ahead
At the same time you will have an opportunity to coach, counsel, and reinforce positive attitudes and performance.
Review your organization’s goals as well as the intern’s goals and requirements on a regular basis. In the beginning of an internship, more frequent meetings may be helpful to both you and the intern. Evaluation processes may differ and may be formal or informal depending on your organization’s culture and structure. There are similarities that both interns and internship supervisors have in the evaluation process:
- Review the intern job description to determine if progress is being made
- Review tasks and assignments and clarify expectations
- Determine if assistance or training is needed to help the intern be successful
- Ask the intern to evaluate his/her experience and allow the opportunity to offer feedback and voice concerns as well as successes.
- Written evaluations may be helpful if your organization would like to consider hiring interns and to publicize the success of your internship program to potential interns
Internship handbook and forms available for download
You may download the entire handbook, Internships: An Employer’s Guide to Experiential Education, or simply select one of the forms from the handbook below.
- Internship position description form (PDF)
- Internship position description form (fillable Word doc)
- Employer evaluation of student intern
- Student evaluation of internship