Many businesses think about hiring interns as a way to get easy help with an overwhelming workload. They think of an internship as free labor. But an internship is decidedly not free labor—in fact, it’s supposed to be something of a burden on the employer.
If you go into your internship experience thinking it’s a free labor situation, you’re probably going to run into compliance problems. You may also get a bad reputation among other students and recent graduates because of it. And you’ll be cutting yourself off from a priceless opportunity to nurture relationships that can help your business in the future.
Here are some basic things to consider before you hire your first intern.
When you take on a new employee, there are certain benefits that you provide to them and certain regulations you must follow. In Oklahoma, you have to have workers’ compensation for employees. You may also provide benefits that include paid time off, health insurance subsidies, a 401k, and other programs.
Independent contractors are different. Contractors are required by law to be independent in every sense. They don’t require a ton of oversight, and if you’re giving them a lot of oversight and guidance on the way their tasks should be done, they’re most likely employees and you could be in violation of the law.
Because interns require significant oversight, they’re never considered independent contractors. Interns are employees, but there’s a key difference from regular employees: their period of employment has a set start date and a set end date. Because it’s a short-term employment period, you may not be required to offer them the same benefits like health insurance and 401k.
Starting with a defined end date to an internship protects your business. If you decide later to extend the internship or hire them as a regular employee, you can do that. There’s some flexibility, but it’s important to define an end date up front.
Interns are their own special category of employee, one that’s there to learn for a specific period of time and go back to their coursework when that time is done.
Have a giving mindset
If you’re bringing an intern in because you have a bunch of work that needs to be done and want cheap labor, you’re going into it with the wrong perspective. An intern is there because there’s a relationship between your business and their school, and you’re operating as an adjunct to their education. In a sense, your business is their classroom.
We’ve talked about this some in a previous article, but the biggest thing you need to think about when hiring an intern is this: What can you help them learn that will help them in their career down the road?
That might sound like it doesn’t have a benefit for your business. You’re right. It doesn’t—yet.
When you hire an intern, in a lot of ways you’re conducting an extended interview. You can learn a lot more about a person through interacting with them over the course of an internship than you can in a 30-minute meeting. You can find great employees for the future through internships.
You can also build relationships with educational institutions that can provide a pipeline of future workers. Wouldn’t you like to find the best employees coming out of school? Internships help with that. If your interns have a good experience at your company, it generates positive word of mouth both at their university and wherever they eventually work.
Internships can be a vital part of your business. But you need to go into it with the right mindset and make sure you’re in compliance with the regulations that apply to this special kind of employee. Don’t shortchange yourself or the intern by taking shortcuts. Build for the long term, help them learn, and reap the benefits down the line.
Want to learn more about how to utilize internships in your company? Contact Why HR to find out how we can help.