Hiring Paid vs. Unpaid Interns

Paid Vs. Unpaid Interns Innovo Staffing

When hiring an unpaid intern, you’ll have to confirm that under the language of the law the intern is considered the “primary beneficiary” of the relationship. If your business is the primary beneficiary of the relationship, you’ll need to pay the intern.


Although there can be huge benefits to having both paid and unpaid interns, they function a bit differently in the structure of your company. Let’s take a look at the importance of interns, some guidelines that you might want to consider when hiring an intern, and the all-important question of how you might find these interns that you need to hire.

The Importance of Interns

In the ideal situation, internships are a symbiotic relationship between your business and the intern. The intern engages in meaningful work in exchange for valuable experience and a letter of recommendation.


Interns generally give you cheaper access to a younger work audience. While interns generally don’t have much experience and can’t be left to themselves on larger projects, and while they do need advice and mentoring for their educational programs, they also have fresher ideas. Use interns to access a younger audience for your business and to stay up-to-date on trends. No one understands the ways that younger people think about sales, marketing, and products better than young people themselves.


If you find the right intern, you earn a valuable team member. Interns usually are completing the internship for experience, and often for course credit in a formal college setting. Have interns reflect on their experience in writing, but also have them reflect on what your business is doing and how it can do it better. Do not underestimate opinions and ideas from a fresh pair of eyes.


Fun at Work Paid Unpaid Interns Innovo Staffing
Fun at Work

The Legality of Internships

The United States government specifies that for an unpaid internship to be successfully carried out in a legal manner, the intern— not the business– must be the primary beneficiary of the internship process. There have also been some recent changes to labor laws that have made unpaid internships more legal and accessible for both businesses and interns. Always consult legal counsel when you’re setting up and running internships to make sure that everything is above board.


The rules can get even more confusing when you’re running a nonprofit, because you now have to distinguish between interns, employees, and volunteers.


The test that the Fair Labor Standards Act uses to determine whether or not your intern must be paid considers about seven rules. It is important to note that none of these rules are considered definitive and the rules are not exhaustive. Fairness is determined on a case-by-case basis.


Here are the seven rules that the FLSA uses to determine the legality of an unpaid internship:


  • Both the intern and the employer must clearly understand that there will be no monetary compensation for the work done. (We suggest to communicate more than once that the internship is unpaid.)
  • The internship should provide training that seems similar to an educational environment. Educational environments can include types of hands-on training and education offered by clinical settings.
  • The internship might be tied to a formal education program, and count toward academic progress.
  • The internship is sympathetic to the intern’s academic career and helps that intern fit the experience into that schedule.
  • The internship doesn’t exceed its time requirements when the internship gives the intern some learning for skills that they didn’t have.
  • The work doesn’t remove the work of paid employees, but actually “complements” that work. The work also should provide some educational benefits to the intern.
  • The internship will not result in a paid position at the end of the internship, and both the employer and intern understand this.

What’s the Difference Between Employment and Internship?

There’s also a difference between a paid internship and employment. If you enter into a contract and perform work for compensation, that’s employment.

Getting an Internship

Getting an internship, paid or unpaid, can be a critical part of success in an industry. It can help build experience and recommendations in a specific field, or can allow one to test the waters in a new setting and in a low-stakes environment. Still, it can be tough to figure out how to get an internship


If you are someone seeking an internship, you’ll have to be creative with your limited time and resources to get something that works for you. Sometimes you’ll have to leverage seasonal or holiday openings with local businesses, in addition to the breaks that you have in your academic calendar.


Staffing agencies can help you find internships and all kinds of temporary work. Use them to 

search for jobs and make new connections. Staffing agencies can connect people with entry-level jobs, especially if you have the experience of an internship to help you articulate working environments you’d see yourself in!  A proper staffing agency is a great hiring solution that thrives on connecting the right people with the right companies.


Internship List Paid Unpaid Interns Innovo Staffing
Internship List

Finding Interns

Internships can be extremely valuable for businesses. They can allow you to reach out to someone with skills that you need, and to get the work done at a better value. For example, if you need someone to coordinate social media, you might be able to set it up as an internship by partnering with and hiring from a local college or university. Finding people for summer internships or holiday-based internships can help you handle traffic and opportunities during peak seasons.

Partner With the University

You might be able to partner with local colleges and universities to fill requirements for their internship programs. If this is the case, you’ll have access to a hard-working and talented group of individuals who all need course credit. If you form a long-term relationship, then the students who come to work with your business will have similar expectations through word-of-mouth. You’ll be consistently fulfilling the requirements for the internship that the college has, meaning you’ll be an attractive place to do an internship and will bring in a lot of students. 


Get in touch with the academic department that you think would really help your business or with the school’s internship/academic office. Your communication approach depends on the size of your business and the size of the college you reach out to.

Personal Networks

It’s a bit more difficult than approaching the local higher-learning institutions, but interns can also be found through personal connections. You may know someone who knows someone, or you may even have an employee whose child needs an internship. Personal networks can be a valuable way to pick up an intern. It just might get you a better person than you could’ve snagged through a different hiring route. Be careful, however, because sometimes personal networks create odd social situations. If the intern doesn’t work out and was recommended by someone close to you or by a full-time employee, this can make it harder to let them go or properly discipline them.


Sometimes hiring someone you had no previous connections to will help prevent a conflict of interest down the line. If you plan to hire through personal networks, be certain that the outcome is worth the risk.

Staffing Agencies

Staffing agencies can be used to fill employment positions that otherwise an intern may not be able to fill. People might see your internship as an opportunity to pick up some valuable new experiences somewhere between jobs, and entry level applicants might be willing to grind it out on an internship for a few months before trying to transition to a full-time role.


A relationship with a staffing agency can give you help with the hiring process, whether you’re looking for a full-time employee or a part-time employee for the season. Staffing agencies can help you find young talent through their presence on social-media platforms, attracting audiences who are engaging in smarter job searches.


Whatever route you choose, be sure that you are using smart and legal avenues to secure the best people for your business!

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