Maximizing the Use of Interns – Joys and Frustrations

College student intern

College students can be great interns, which can be a win-win for your company and the student.

Why we hired interns

With both my own company and the small and medium companies for which I’ve worked as a CFO or COO, we hired interns because we needed temporary assistance. In some situations, we needed lower capabilities. With these, we sought freshman or sophomores as interns. For the situations in which we needed higher capabilities or considered hiring full-time once we ramped up, we sought juniors or seniors. In general, for their skill level, interns are MUCH cheaper than the typical short-term hire and often more enthusiastic.

Intern disasters

One recent disaster was an intern who had two part-time internships, including ours. She just did not have the time to devote to us, so we separated her employment after 1 month. Of the 15 or so interns I’ve hired in the past 7 years, she was the only “disaster” and admittedly, that was not much of one.

Intern successes

I have had multiple successes with interns. One standout success was with an MBA intern from a local renowned business school. We brought her in to help with our strategic / succession plan. She did an amazing job. She had 5 years of work experience in the investment arena and wanted to try something different for the summer, before returning to portfolio investing.

I believe she was so successful because I:  a) clearly defined the scope of work, what the learning would be and the deliverable at the end; b) clearly delineated the benefits to an MBA including the support and exposure the person would receive; and c) had regular (every 2 week) scheduled check-ins. I have found that the clearer the benefits to the students (remember, interns are supposed to learn from you, not just do work) and the clearer the deliverables, timelines and reasons for these, the better candidate you recruit and the better work he/she/they produce.

Paid or unpaid interns

In general, we prefer to use paid interns. I believe the work product is higher, and there are programs that exist for small businesses to offset the cost of interns. In addition, there’s been a backlash at colleges and universities against the unpaid intern. However, we typically use unpaid interns for PR work (i.e., communication, PR or journalism majors) during the school year because many college programs require in-semester internships for college credit. Because we have to provide regular reports to the school and a final semester-end report, these interns are unpaid. However, the tradeoff is they typically only work 5 hours per week!

New college graduate and former intern

Using students who will soon graduate as interns can reduce your recruitment costs.

Partial or full year

I prefer to go by semester. If I am going to invest a year in teaching an employee, I’d much prefer him or her to be a full-time employee from whom I can extract some of the value I’ve provided through all the teaching. The sole exception is when we intend to hire an employee full-time and are using an intern in the position until business ramps up to support someone full-time. We would then hire the student as an intern but let him or her know that we intend to hire him or her full-time after graduation, assuming it is a good fit. (Of the 15 interns I’ve hired, this has been the situation twice.)

Intern integration

Because I use position contracts (reference the E-Myth), all employees understand the company’s goals and their roles within the company. So it is relatively easy for me to ensure everyone is on the same page. We have monthly meetings and share appropriate performance data with employees. In addition, because of what I shared above, there is no vagueness regarding what the intern is doing or whom he or she is helping.

Potential legal issues with interns

Interns are treated as employees so the same legal issues apply. The only concerns arise when they are unpaid. Therefore, I follow the rule I outlined above. I can justify any DOL (Department of Labor) inquiry of such an unpaid internship by saying the internship was training…and I have the college correspondence/documentation to prove it. Regarding interns treated as independent contractors, the only way to justify this is if they do work for other businesses and invoice them. However, I don’t call these individuals “interns”. They would be classified as virtual assistants/marketing contractors/etc. who happen to be college students!

Do you need help determining what to do regarding your interns? Do you want to hire interns but don’t know where to start? Do you need money to help pay for interns (i.e., access available programs)? Email me via the Contact page or at Alternatively, you can call 1-866-466-3692 to schedule a free 20-minute consultation.