Payroll Data Services Blog

What To Do Before Bringing an Intern on Board

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For many businesses, summer is the height of internship season. And since summer’s in full swing, perhaps you have interns on the brain. If you’re thinking of bringing an intern on in the future, now is the time to get your ducks in a row. As with any new hire, there are a lot of preparations to make.

If they’re set up for success, interns can be worth their weight in gold to your business. And if you do things the right way, the internship experience will be mutually beneficial — which means you could be paving the way for long-term talent. 

Before you bring new interns aboard, take these steps to ensure the experience is a win-win situation for your business and your interns. 

Create a clear job description

The benefits of a clearly defined job description are two-fold. Besides being a valuable tool for attracting qualified candidates, it serves as a blueprint to help you manage interns once they’re hired. But before you can craft an effective job description, you need to take a step back and clarify some questions internally.

First, answer the big picture question: Why do you need an intern? Knowing that will help you identify the intern’s day-to-day responsibilities. At the same time, it will help you set expectations with the intern once they start. Of course, as you’re developing the description, don’t forget to include the finer details, such as the timeline of the position, who they’ll report to, and how to apply. And remember, internships are a two-way street, so clearly identify the value that candidates will get out of the opportunity too. Last but not least, don’t skirt around how much you pay (or don’t pay) — which brings us to our next point.

Figure out compensation

You guessed it. For many employers, there’s an immediate question that comes to mind when  hiring interns: To pay or not to pay? But before you run with the idea that interns equal free labor, make sure you’re clear on federal labor laws. In most circumstances, private-sector employers in the United States are required to pay their interns under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In rare cases, unpaid internships at for-profit companies are legal if you can show the intern, not the employer, is the “primary beneficiary” of the relationship, meaning they benefit more than the employer from it. 

To determine who the primary beneficiary is, courts use the “primary beneficiary test,” taking into consideration the extent to which:

  1. The intern understands they will not receive compensation and does not expect compensation.
  2. The internship is similar to training they would receive in an educational environment.
  3. The internship is part of the intern’s coursework, or the intern will receive academic credit for the internship.
  4. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff while receiving educational benefits.
  5. The internship aligns with the intern's academic calendar, allowing them to meet their other academic commitments.
  6. The length of the internship aligns with the period of beneficial learning for the intern.
  7. Both parties understand there is no guarantee of a job at the conclusion of the internship.

Since there’s a level of subjectivity to these questions, they may leave you with some uncertainty. If that’s the case, err on the side of caution and consult an employment law attorney. And while you’re at it, confirm whether your state has any additional compensation regulations.

Develop a recruitment strategy

These days, the race is on to find the best and the brightest interns — before the competition does. Since many companies look at internships as a pipeline for hiring full-time talent, they recruit interns early to get a leg up on the competition. Avoid waiting until it’s too late, and decide on a start date for your interns. By doing this, you’re less likely to procrastinate, and you can set the wheels in motion for strategic recruitment. The earlier you start the recruitment process, the better. Some companies recruit their interns as early as a year ahead of time. If that’s not feasible, try to allow at least a few months for recruiting and onboarding candidates.

Next, decide where you’ll advertise the internship. If you’re planning to recruit students, reach out to local universities to find out if you can share your posting on their job boards. And if you’re interested in meeting students in person, see if you can participate in on-campus recruiting events. Along with those avenues, cast a wide net by posting the position on LinkedIn, Indeed, and even internship listing sites like and WayUp.  

Fine-tune your selection process

The good news is, you’re more than halfway there. You’ve written a clear job description, and you’re advertising in all the right places. So what’s next? As with any position, thoroughly vetting candidates helps you find the right fit. Hiring can be a headache, and it’s a time-consuming process. But if you ask the right interview questions, you have a better chance of finding an intern that adds value to your company. And in turn, they’ll be happier, more engaged, and more productive. Wondering where to start? Check out this list of must-ask interview questions, and tailor as necessary so they’re intern-appropriate. 

Prepare an internship agreement

Be ready to make things official with a formal internship agreement once you find the right fit. If you don’t already have a template, you can find one online. While this is a good starting point, it’s best to play it safe — run your form past a legal advisor to make everything checks out. Besides formalizing the relationship, a written internship agreement gives you an opportunity to reiterate the intern’s responsibilities and set your expectations. But even more importantly, it includes the agreed upon compensation, contract term and other relationship details, ensuring your intern is aligned with the company before starting. 

Make an onboarding plan

No one works well without direction, especially interns, who often come with limited to no work experience. Just as you would with full-time employees, firm up an onboarding plan before they start. But, since they’ll be around for a shorter period of time than regular employees, condense your regular onboarding plan into a week or less of up-front training. To make sure they hit the ground running, plan for a “pre-boarding” phase, where you send them any necessary paperwork in advance of their start date so that’s squared away. You can also plan to send an introductory email for the soon-to-be intern to make them feel welcome and excited to start.

Once they come aboard, you can plan an orientation session, which should cover everything from your organizational values to company-wide processes. From there, you can hone in on the scope of the intern’s responsibilities, communicate goals and expectations for the internship, and conduct any necessary role-specific training. By having a solid onboarding plan in place, you convey that you’re invested in your interns, and you set them up to become a successful, contributing team member.   

Assign a mentor

Just like employees rely on managers, interns rely on mentors. And rightfully so. For many interns, this is their first time getting hands-on experience. With the right amount of guidance, they’ll be more impactful to your business. But, the onus shouldn’t be on them to find a mentor. From the get-go, assign your interns with a mentor to show them the ropes. While their mentor can be their supervisor, it doesn’t have to be. Rather, it’s a staff member that’s willing to take the time to answer questions and share their expertise. Sure, in the near term, it requires extra time out of the mentor’s schedule. But with the right intern, it will pay dividends over time. 

Evaluate their performance

Since interns are new to the scene, ongoing feedback and communication are paramount to their success. Throughout their term, schedule a regular cadence of check-ins, so you can talk about what’s working, and any improvements that need to be made. By referring to your handy-dandy job description, you can determine if they’re meeting expectations, and determine if additional training is required. And while constructive criticism is necessary, don’t forget to acknowledge your intern for what they’re doing well. At the end of their term, this should culminate in a final written evaluation to conclude the internship for the student. 

Prepare to conduct an exit interview

Just as good internships start with effective onboarding, they end with thorough offboarding. One key component to that? A formal exit interview. By getting your intern’s feedback at the end of their internship, you demonstrate that you value their opinion. But just as importantly, it provides a face-to-face opportunity to learn where you could improve your internship experience in the future. To make the most of it, you’ll want to schedule the exit interview well in advance of your intern’s departure date, so you give them time to collect their thoughts before they share them with you. 

Keep in mind, an online survey is a worthwhile complement to an exit interview, as it gives interns an opportunity to share feedback that they may not be comfortable sharing in person. Not only does this encourage interns to be transparent about their experience, it enables you to more accurately evaluate your internship program so you can make improvements.

Making employee onboarding and management easier

Hiring new people shouldn’t mean you’re overwhelmed with paperwork. With Orbit Solutions, our full-suite human capital management (HCM) platform, you don’t have to be. Orbit Human Resources, one of the products within Orbit Solutions, makes the process smooth, so you can focus on people — not paperwork. When applicants are hired, their online information flows seamlessly from the optional talent acquisition module into the employee record within Orbit Solutions. No more wasted time in separate systems!

And to make the onboarding process easy, Orbit Human Resources generates a configurable onboarding checklist, complete with automated system reminders. This streamlines the onboarding process so you can get interns up and running efficiently. At the same time, it optimizes new-hire engagement since you have more time to focus on new talent. And perhaps the best part? If your intern ends up becoming full-time talent down the road, you retain all of their information in their one employee record.

But that’s not all. To find out more about how Orbit Solutions can help you manage the employee lifecycle from end to end, contact us today!


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