How to legally hire an intern

Developing an internship program at your company—paid or unpaid—can bring many valuable benefits. But it can also put you at risk of breaking the rules.

by Kylie Ora Lobell
updated March 16, 2023 ·  3min read

Many companies these days are offering paid and unpaid internships. Business owners provide these interns with valuable experience, and, in return, they receive extra help for their business. Establishing an internship program can prove to be highly beneficial for you and your team.

The benefits of starting an internship program

When you hire an intern, you're gaining assistance with tasks that you and your employees can't complete on your own, as well as a fresh outsider's perspective of your company.

The best interns will come in with an enthusiastic attitude and get your employees pumped about working for your company. Since they tend to be college students or in their early 20s, they also can give you a glimpse into what that demographic thinks and how they feel about your brand or service.

Instead of hiring talent you're not familiar with, you may choose to transition your top interns into paid positions once their internship "trial period" is over. This can save you valuable time and resources on training since the interns will already know what you expect from them.

Assessing your internship program needs

If you're serious about hiring interns, you first need to figure out what needs your business has that offer suitable responsibilities for an intern.

What will your internship program entail? Will he or she file papers and run errands every day, or have a hands-on position that requires sales and marketing expertise?

It would be best if you also ironed out the logistics. Will you offer a paid or unpaid internship? Who on your team will be responsible for managing interns? Will the intern assist a certain person or the whole staff? What training or mentoring will you offer your interns?

How to hire an intern

Once you answer all the necessary questions, you can then turn to intern recruitment. It's best to reach out to local colleges and universities and post on their job boards. You also can list internships on sites such as,,, or MonsterCollege.

You'll want to find an intern who is eager to learn, pursued a major related to what your company does, and may be interested in future employment with your business.

The next step is to determine whether or not your intern program is legal.

Compensating your interns

If your interns are paid, you must compensate them at least the minimum wage and overtime for weeks they work more than 40 hours. Hiring unpaid interns is also an option; however, if you choose to take on an unpaid intern, the laws are a little more complicated.

Unpaid interns have sued even big corporations like Viacom and Universal Music Group. To avoid legal action, an unpaid internship must meet the following six criteria as established by the Fair Labor Standards Act:

  • The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training that would be given in an educational environment
  • The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern
  • The intern does not displace regular employees but works under the close supervision of existing staff
  • The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern, and on occasion, its operations may actually be impeded
  • The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job after the internship and
  • The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship

When you hire interns, you're investing in your business, as well as in new talent that may improve how your company functions. As long as you abide by the standards set by the Fair Labor Standards Act and you provide well-structured internship programs, you're going to reap the benefits that come along with taking on these new workers. 

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Kylie Ora Lobell

About the Author

Kylie Ora Lobell

Kylie Ora Lobell is a freelance copywriter, editor, marketer, and publicist. She has over 10 years of experience writing… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.