What you need to know before hiring an intern
Internships can be a great way for startups to work with talented students or graduates. Interns and employers have popularised the practice because it gives both sides an opportunity to get a feel for one another on a short-term basis.
Hiring an intern has become trickier as, unfortunately, in recent years, there has been a lot of bad press surrounding internships and the employers that offer them. This has stemmed from concerns about the popularity of unpaid internships as an illegal and unethical way to gain cheap labour. The only way to ensure that you steer clear from any negative connotations is to know the law surrounding interns and to work towards ensuring that their experience is truly win-win.
(Editor's note to employers: if you are unsure of your obligations, call BrighterBox on 0207 269 6725. and our expert team can guide you through the best practice for hiring interns.)
Can you hire an intern?
If you want to hire an intern, it is important that you’re clear on the relevant employment rights. Unpaid internships (or only paying expenses) have become the norm. Fresh graduates and students on holidays are so desperate to enter the work force that they will forgo a salary for a short time to get something down on their CV. Some employers are all too happy to take advantage of this (maybe they had to jump through the same hoops when they were starting their career) and will only offer to cover travel and lunch costs. Aside from the dubious ethical arguments, employers are more than likely to be in breach of minimum wage legislation.
How much should you pay an intern?
When defined as a worker (i.e. doing more than just shadowing) an intern is legally obliged to receive minimum wage. This is currently £7.70/h for 21-24 year olds, and £8.21/h for those over 25. The worker cannot opt out via a written agreement (so even if they are willing to work for free, they won’t be able to). The only way that someone can be involved in your office without being paid is either as a voluntary worker for a charity, or on a shadowing scheme (but bear in mind they must engage in observation ONLY). Knowing these rules makes it easier to understand how to plan for a short-term hire. However, if you are based in London, you should consider paying the London Living Wage (£10.55/h) if you want to keep your candidate pool as wide as possible.
How long does it take to hire an intern?
The timeline for hiring an intern can vary depending on availabilities on both sides. For example, if you are looking to hire someone who has not yet graduated, they may be more limited in availability because of university commitments. However, graduates tend to have plenty of availability, and are often more able to fit in to your schedule. Here at BrighterBox, we tend to place candidates at internships from between a week to a month.
Why should you hire an intern?
Internships can be great for both employer and employee. If a candidate is coming straight from education with minimum experience on their CV, then an internship is a great way to test the waters with a potential career. Usually they will be handed real responsibility and treated like a permanent staff member to allow them to become fully immersed in the working world. The obvious benefits of this are that they can flesh out their CV with skills and knowledge that are hard to attain whilst studying.
From the perspective of a startup, hiring an intern is ideal for an employer looking to boost rapid growth over a few months. An internship is a great test-period for employers who can’t afford the risks of jumping straight into hiring. When there is so much to do and so little time for training, it can really help to recruit someone for a few weeks/months to see if they can jump in at the deep end and stay afloat. If they prove themselves to be valuable over time then you will have a readymade employee who knows the business and is guaranteed to be worth the investment.
During the internship
If you have decided to hire an intern, then you should plan the ways that they will be able to add value to your organisation. It won’t benefit you or them if they are left to drift about for the few months that they are with you and are unsure whether they are actually helping.
Before hiring someone, be certain that you know why you need them and where their skills will be best utilised. This will ensure that they start on their first day without any faffing around. When you only have someone for a short amount of time, it makes sense for them to hit the ground running. Line up an on-boarding session as if they were to be a permanent employee and give them the benefit of a mentor.
Handing your intern meaningful tasks will be helpful to you as well as to them. They are there to learn quickly and pick up as much as possible from the experience, and you have hired them to push the business to the next step. Neither of those things will happen if you only have them fetching coffees.
After the internship
Most candidates head into an internship hoping that they will make a good impression and end up being hired permanently. If they are interning as a student, then they may wish to return during their next holiday or be hired fulltime once they graduate.
It is up to you whether you have the funds or the space available to hire someone permanently, but it could be beneficial. If they have already spent three months or more learning the ropes, and are shining in the role, then having them stay on would be a lower risk decision than letting them go and hiring someone new further later on. When you find a great employee, you should always keep hold of them; we know for a fact they get snapped up quickly.
If you decide not to move them to a permanent position, then you should still book them in for a debrief. They will want to know how they have done, and if there is anything they should work on for their next internship or graduate job. Treat this as a formal review and take the time out to offer as much constructive feedback that you can put together. Remember that as much as you are reviewing their performance, they are also getting a taste for your company and its culture – so this is the perfect way to end on a high note!