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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

Need a Helping Hand? 3 Myths About Hiring Your First Intern

An intern is supposed to make your life easier, right?

But, going through the process of hiring one for the first time can be so confusing that you might start to feel like you should just give up and do the work yourself.

I sure did. In my case, I was looking for a community management intern to help me with my social media efforts. But as a one-woman show and a hiring rookie, I didn’t really know how to navigate the process. And, as it turns out, there were a lot of things that I believed about bringing on an intern that were completely and utterly incorrect.

But, I made it through the process, and came out on the other side with a new intern and a lot of knowledge I didn’t have before. Read on for the biggest misconceptions that held me back from getting help so that you can move forward more quickly than I did in finding the perfect set of extra hands.

Misconception #1: I Need to Have a Registered Business to Have an Intern

Says who? That’s what I learned.

For some reason (probably because legal matters are often murky waters, intimidating those of us who didn’t go to law school), new entrepreneurs tend to think something official like being a registered business or having a copyrighted site is a credential that’s necessary in order to legally take on an official intern.

But, after spending too much time dragging my feet on hiring someone because I thought this was true, I learned that it is absolutely not.

I sent an email blast with my concern to a few women with sites similar to mine who have interns and asked them to give the rundown. (We help each other from time to time, sharing shortcuts that we wish someone would have shared with us.) Most of them chuckled at my questions with an, “Oh, Megan! You’re such a worrier.” But, they did admit they also wondered about the same thing in the beginning.

Essentially, what I learned is that anyone willing to mentor and train an intern can take one on. There are only rules to follow if your intern is requesting college credit, which would mean you’d have to follow the guidelines of that specific university’s curriculum (some require that you do have a registered business, for example). And, if you are offering compensation, you have to be sure you’re paying minimum wage (more on that in a bit).

So, know that the option to get an intern exists no matter if your site or business is “official.” Your internship program will be as official as you make it.

To add a little extra credibility, try following the standard procedures used by most university-approved internship programs, like setting up weekly status meetings and taking time out to provide mentorship to your intern for his or her overall professional development. You also can provide onboarding materials beforehand to get your intern off on the right foot—for me, a style sheet with a list of language dos and don’ts was in order, as was a spreadsheet of login usernames and passwords for my social media pages. Finally, have a performance evaluation after the internship session is over.

Misconception #2: If I Can’t Pay My Intern, I Have to Offer College Credit

This certainly an option, but it’s definitely not a requirement. The best advice I received on this from a mentor of mine is to be open to providing college credit—especially if you can’t pay—but to not make it a requirement of the internship (thereby limiting your pool of candidates to only college students seeking credit).

If the person you’re thinking of hiring is looking for college credit, be prepared to follow individual college curriculum when planning out your intern’s tasks. Every university’s internship requirements are different, so before taking on an intern who requires college credit, ask to see the curriculum. There may be certain tasks your intern will need to perform in order for the internship to qualify, as well as reports you’ll have to write evaluating the intern’s work performance throughout the semester.

If your intern doesn’t want college credit, and you can’t afford to pay him or her, you do need to be careful that you’re not just taking advantage of free labor—there are legal requirements around what an unpaid internship should and should not entail. Cameron Smith put together a great set of legal and ethical guidelines to consider when deciding how to compensate your interns, but you should also make sure to study up on your state and local laws.

Misconception #3: I Missed the Start of the Semester, so I Have to Wait to Find an Intern

Having started my search a month into summer, I was thrilled to find out this isn’t true. In fact, I have peers who post openings for interns year round.

Especially when you’re looking for positions like content writers, you’re likely to be successful in finding someone no matter what time of year—creative writing majors, for example, often need internships, and editorial and writing positions are hard to come by these days. Offering flexibility in number of working hours or in work location (i.e., opportunities to work virtually) will also help you if you’re looking for someone in the off season. My first intern is working remotely, and we’ve set up a weekly time and day to catch up via phone to compensate for the lack of face time.

It’s also worth remembering that more and more college graduates are still looking for post-grad internships to give them tangibles to add to their portfolios or resumes before they hit the entry-level job market. Since they’re no longer in school, the start and the finish of semesters are as important to them as Spring Break is to us boring adults.

So, what say you? Do you have any additional apprehension about hiring an intern? I’m happy to answer any of your questions. Or, do you have similar experiences you’d like to share? Tell me about it below! I love reading your comments: It’s such a great opportunity for all of us to swap insight and support each other.

Photo of woman and intern courtesy of Shutterstock.