You want to hire an intern; someone to photocopy forms, file papers, backup drives, run out and get coffee for the office, set up meetings, and make lunch reservations?

If that’s what you’re thinking, it will be beneficial for you to reevaluate your definition of an intern; they are not a gofers, whether they are paid or not. An intern is a person who is interested in your business or industry for a reason – they want to get a foot in the door or the business or want to try the industry on for size. Either way, they are a valued resource that your company should view as potential candidates rather than free help.

There are a couple of things you should consider when thinking about bringing an intern onboard:

Know What Your Goals Are

What are you planning to expose your intern to? What tasks are they responsible for while working with you? Planning out an intern program ahead of time makes more sense than just bringing someone in to expose them to working in an office. The process of interning should be respected by both parties. As such, both of you must come prepared.

Internships with a Purpose

If your small business is considering bringing on an intern it makes sense that the motivation is two-fold. You not only want to have entry-level help for specific project and ramp ups, but you are also interested in cultivating a potential employee. Be sure that you are taking the necessary steps to getting a candidate that will suit your needs. Look for motivation, interest in your specific industry, and a willingness to learn from a small business perspective (read wearing multiple hats and understanding the business in a well-rounded fashion). College students or newly minted grads are perfect for this exercise.

Treat it like a Real Job

Going into the exercise as thought this was a real job is crucial. Interns looking for knowledge should get it from the very onset of the process. Conduct interviews with question designed to get a feel for what they are looking for and why they chose you as a potential fit. Divulge a bit about what they would be doing at your company as well. When you bring on an intern be sure to have an internship agreement that specifies the duration of the internship, pay (if applicable), and agreement between the two parties to work. Create a timesheet for the intern and be sure it is kept up to date with accurate hours.

To Pay or Not to Pay, That is the Question

You can go both ways with your interns but you’ll have to look into the requirements of either choice. If you want to go the unpaid route, be sure to consult the Fair Labor Standards Act to be sure you are in alignment. But the unpaid route is usually the big business route – ones with a large footprint in specific industries and ones with names that stand out on resumes. As a small business, you should consider paying your interns.

Bringing on an intern is a wonderful opportunity to nurture a person’s goals and interests. It can be as fulfilling for the business as it is for the intern.