For us small-business owners, appropriately staffing our companies can be a big challenge. We don’t have HR departments to help us, and our budgets are typically a lot more constrained than our bigger competitors. This can make it a real struggle to get all of the critical work done on time, particularly during the busiest times of the year.
One great solution to this conundrum can be to hire an intern to help out when you need extra resources. My wife and I have been running a film festival for several years, and the months leading up to show time were always really stressful. This past year we hired an intern for the first time and it was a huge help for us, and a valuable source of real-world experience for our intern who is studying film in college.
If you think that an intern could help your business, here are four tips to help ensure that you and your intern both get the most out of the experience, and that you don’t run afoul of employee labor laws.
1.) Find a good match. Just as you would when hiring a full-time employee, make sure to spend enough time on the recruitment process so that you attract an intern who is truly interested in what your business does, not someone just looking to fill a college requirement. Connect with universities and colleges in your area to get your internship opportunity listed on campus, and consider directly approaching professors or administrators within the departments that are most likely to contain students interested in your field. For our film festival, it was a great benefit to have someone passionate about movies join our team.
2.) Give them enough rope. If your biggest need is for help with data entry, filing, photocopying, or another repetitve tasks, then you’re not in the market for an intern. You need a temp who specializes in that type of work. An internship needs to be mutually beneficial and should provide the intern with meaningful work experience that could help prepare him or her for a career in your industry. If you give your intern a meaningful project, you’re more likely to reap real rewards for your business. Among many other things, our intern helped us compile an extensive list of potential advertisers for our festival, and in the process she made personal connections with dozens of professionals in our local film community.
3.) Be a mentor. Giving your intern meaningful work is great, but remember that he or she is there to learn as well as work. So make sure to approach the relationship not just as a boss, but as a teacher as well.
4.) Keep it on the up and up. While a lot of internships are unpaid, there are some pretty strict rules that employers need to follow in order to take on an unpaid intern. Make sure you are familiar with the six federal legal guidelines from the U.S. Department of Labor on page eight of this document. If you’ll be paying your intern, then you need to comply with minimum-wage laws, and if you need help determining the market rate, check with a local college or university’s career-services center for guidance.
Once you hire a good intern, you may well find that it becomes a regular part of the solution for your staffing needs. I know that now that we’ve taken the plunge, we’re already thinking about interns for next year’s festival.