If you have an internship program in place, the idea of bringing on interns to help lighten workloads, take on special projects or even just enhance the organization may sound very appealing. But before hiring an intern, employers should consider several questions to help make the internship experience positive for both the employer and the student. With these five tips, employers can feel more confident rolling out an internship program successfully.

1. To pay or not to pay

Budgets are often tight, and it’s easy to want free work from interns. But according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) “for-profit” private sector employers are required to pay minimum wage and overtime pay to interns. If you don’t want to pay your interns, your internship program must meet all six criteria outlined by the FLSA. This requires that interns only observe, have an educational setting and the internship is for the benefit of the intern and not the employer. Most employers want an intern to work on special projects or help alleviate work from full-time employees, so this exemption wouldn’t apply to most employers.

2. Intern projects

Interns want and need an internship to be competitive in the marketplace after graduation. Employers need to find projects that allow for bragging rights for the intern and that will shine on their resume. A great rule of thumb: Don’t ask the interns to get coffee, or to be mindless data-entry drones. They won’t enjoy it, and they probably won’t learn much in the process. Instead, find projects that have been on hold because there aren’t enough resources or time to tackle them. These are the projects interns want, and they’ll learn real-world experiences. And let’s be honest, if those projects are completed, they’ll impact the business in a positive way.

3. Management of interns

Whether the company wants to hire one intern or ten, giving them structure and support is crucial to the success of the internship program. Typically an HR representative, or an employee who’s passionate about teaching and mentoring employees, should be the point-person for the interns. This point-person should conduct weekly meetings that discuss intern projects, feedback, rules and guidelines. These meetings will also help interns bond as a group and assist with developing them as young professionals.

Spring 2013 Interns4. Building future employees

If steps 1 through 3 are implemented correctly, you’ll be on your way to creating future ambassadors for your company. Interns who have great experiences with you as their employer will keep your company on their radar for future job opportunities. Also, interns will spread the word among peers which can create a positive brand image among local colleges and universities. Top talent interns often have friends who are just as talented looking for valuable internship experiences. Intern referrals are often a good sign that your internship program is headed the right direction.

5. Employee morale

Last but not least, having interns in the work environment can be positive for full-time employees, too. Interns bring a breath of fresh air and excitement to employees who interact with them. Encourage full-time employees to get to know the interns, and even collaborate on projects. Another great idea is asking for mentor volunteers from full-time employees that will get to pair up with an intern and develop a mentor relationship. Mentor and mentee relationships are beneficial to both interns and employees. Having interns interact with employees regularly can help increase retention and employee morale.

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