01/31/2013 01:53 pm ET Updated Apr 02, 2013

Should You Hire an Intern?

For Women & Co. by Heather Spohr, The Spohrs are Multiplying

I am a big fan of internships -- having landed my first job after college through one, and later coordinating my employer's own program. There, I saw firsthand how much interns could benefit our business. However, not every company is suited to hire them. Before you decide if it's a smart move for you and your business, it's important to understand the pros, cons, and rules that come into play.

The Benefits
One of the biggest plusses of hiring interns is that they can provide you with quality work at a very low-cost. In my experience, I've found that the best interns were enthusiastic about tackling useful jobs that were too time-consuming for full-time employees (such as data entry or organization), as well as starting projects that have long languished on your company's "to-do" list.

Interns are more than just another set of hands around the office, though. They can bring a fresh perspective that may help you discover new approaches to workplace challenges. Since most interns are young, they also tend to be well-versed in social media and, as a result, may have valid insights and ideas about your company's online presence.

Finally, hiring interns creates an opportunity to scope out new talent for your company. You have the chance to make a prolonged evaluation of an intern's potential over the course of his or her internship, and if you decide to hire one, you will have a very strong concept of that person's abilities. Furthermore, you won't have to worry whether you've chosen a good fit with your other employees, because the intern will already have become acquainted with your office culture and company goals.

The Considerations
Interns can provide a lot of value, but they also require a lot of time and preparation. Whereas a normal employee might need only a couple days of on-the-job training, an intern typically requires more handholding. It's your responsibility to mentor your interns in a hands-on manner, not only about how your company works, but your industry, too. Unfortunately, this sometimes means that when things are really busy in the office, your interns will add to your stress. Instead of making your life easier, they become just one more thing you have to deal with that day.

Another potential drawback is that, though most interns are unpaid, they still use resources. You'll need to provide them with a workspace, computer, phone, equipment, office supplies, and more. It should be noted that, over the course of a year, the cost of running an internship program is not insubstantial.

The Rules
According to the Department of Labor, all internship programs must meet the guidelines set forth by the Fair Labor Standards Act. For an unpaid internship to be legal, it must, among other requirements, be "similar to training which would be given in an educational environment, ... be for the benefit of the intern, ... (and) not displace regular employees." These guidelines are not to be taken lightly, as there have recently been a number of high-profile lawsuits filed by interns, including one in which a talk show agreed to pay a group of former interns $250,000 for unpaid work. Clearly, you shouldn't decide to hire interns without giving the decision a lot of consideration. In my experience, however, adding an intern to the office can be very rewarding, not just for the intern, but for you as well.

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