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The Five P’s of Hiring Interns
by Jeanne Rossomme
May 5, 2022

Debbie Brodsky realized after her first year in business that she couldn’t do it all alone. If her video storytelling business, DMB Pictures was going to grow, she needed help:

“I remember my first shoot where I did it all myself: the camera work, the lighting, interviewing.  I was crazy exhausted at the end of the day.  I realized then I needed to get help for those tasks that are complete-time sucks or even physical setups where it is helpful to have an extra set of hands.”

During college and her early career years as a filmmaker, Debbie gained her hands-on learning via several internships and wanted to continue that giving process with her business. 

After several years and several interns, Debbie has good advice on the pro’s, perils, perks, process, and pay considerations when hiring college interns:

1. Pro’s:

  • Gets you moving on those growth projects for your business
  • Forces you to get specific on the scope of the project and where an outside person can help you.
  • Writing the job description for an intern usually helps get you organized, as you gather all the information needed to pass on to someone else.
  • Saves expenses when you need help but have little to no budget to hire outside services
  • Can infuse fresh, young energy into your work
  • Personal satisfaction knowing you are helping young adults develop skills and confidence

2. Perils:

  • You need to allocate considerable time to teaching and managing.
  • Sporadic, sometimes unreliable, assistance - you will likely be hiring someone new every semester or so.

3. Perks (from the intern’s perspective):

  • Get lots of hands-on experience working for a small company, thereby providing real-world examples to use with future employers
  • You are not just getting coffee and taking notes; you get to do actual work.

4. Process – Where/How Get an Intern:

  • Write up a formal job description, as you would for a regular job.
  • Select local colleges where a) you know they have a strong major for the type of skills you're looking for and b) it's easy to get to you (distance/access to transportation).
  • Post on school listservs and job boards via the career office.  Another tip is to research the top professors for the major you’re interested in, connect with them directly, and ask them for recommendations of students.
  • Get references on internship candidates (especially from teachers who will be super honest about their students.)
  • Phone interview first to filter down to a select few.  Then meet for coffee, noting if they show up on time, communicate well, are flexible and personable.
  • Do a trial or test day with a specific task for the day.  Let them try out the commute – to make sure it will work for both of you.
  • Set up a regular schedule - otherwise, schoolwork and projects will get in the way.
  • Have a space for them to work - ideally with tools you provide.
  • Put together some sort of letter of agreement (also what they can and can’t use as stuff for their portfolio)

Additional Tips:

  • Make sure your interns are flexible and agreeable to doing tasks other than those specifically stated in the job description.
  • Make sure you have people that want to learn - not students who think they know everything already.
  • Set expectations even on details like timeliness, dress code, and rules of engagement.  These are young people who may have little to know experience in a work environment.
  • Get emergency contact numbers for your interns, in case you need to contact them or in the case of a medical problem.
  • If you find someone great and their semester is ending, ask if they know someone else they could recommend who might want an internship

5. Pay:

  • If you don’t want to offer compensation, offer to at least pay travel expenses.
  • If you do offer compensation, make sure the total does not go over $600 for the year - otherwise, they count as a 1099 contractor.

According to The Department of Labor, the following six legal criteria must be applied when making a determination if an internship is required to be paid.

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.

2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.

3.  The intern does not displace regular employees but works under close supervision of existing staff.

4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern and on occasion, it's operations may actually be impeded.

5. ‪The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.

6. The employer and the intern understand that ‪the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

As Debbie’s business has grown, she realized it was too time-consuming to be finding and training new interns each semester.  She now hires graduate students as contractors, paying them a reasonable hourly wage and keeping them for longer periods of time.

About the author
Jeanne Rossomme

Jeanne uses her 20 years of marketing know-how to help small business owners reach their goals. Before becoming an entrepreneur, she held a variety of marketing positions with DuPont and General Electric. Jeanne regularly hosts online webinars and workshops in both English and Spanish.

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1165 Herndon Parkway, Suite 100
Herndon, VA 20170

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