Building your Internship – Structure & Compensation (Part 2 of 6)

Now that you’ve laid the foundation for your internship program, it’s time to move forward with setting it up . Today’s post will focus on (1.) Structure and (2.) Compensation.

Disclaimer: This section will provide strategies for employers building their programs independently of a school. If you are partnering with a school or academic department, you may find that there are requirements for how you structure your program/compensate your interns.

1. Key Set-up questions to ask in your organization: 

  • Where will the intern(s) work?
  • When will the intern(s) work?

The very nature of an internship program means that the intern’s learning and development should be central, so I recommend that you consider scheduling your intern’s hours on-site as much as possible. Having your intern working out of your physical space exposes them to your corporate culture and the behavior/attitudes of your other employees.  You will also have a chance to get to know him or her better, which will give you a better sense of how to proceed with assigning projects, evaluating, or even hiring them full-time. 

Scheduling can be tricky, as students who are in school will be juggling classes and other academic commitments, so you may want to take that into account before creating an exact schedule. That said, keep in mind that internships can be anywhere from a few hours per week to full-time, from one academic quarter, to a full year.  Whatever you decide, remember that a consistent in-office presence, and frequent interaction with supervisors and fellow employees gives the intern the opportunity to feel connected.

2. Key Compensation question to ask in your organization: 

  • How are we compensating the interns?

I’ll be sharing some additional resources later in the series, including more on this very topic. As you can tell, this is a meaty area so please consider this post to be the tip of the iceberg. We’ve also explored it on other parts of the blog already (here, for example).

Let’s look at it this way: It’s up to you and your organization to determine how you will be compensation your intern, not if. There are two avenues to consider, and anything else becomes legally questionable.

  • Paid: Just what it sounds like – the intern is earning monetary compensation for their work
  • For academic credit (also referred to as “unpaid”):  an academic institution or program is granting academic credit for the work the intern does related to their position in you organization.  Often, universities require additional class time and/or projects for the intern to complete to earn credit.

How do you know which one is right for you? Well, let’s take a look at one particular line from the Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act Fact sheet on unpaid internships.  This line relates to for-profit institutions, and says “The employer provides the training and derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern. Occasionally, the operations may actually be impeded.”

Yes, you read that correctly. I interpret that line to mean, if a for-profit organization has an intern performing any sort of work or labor that benefits the organization, it is not appropriate for the internship to be unpaid. So, I encourage any business hosting interns to pay them. Pay can be hourly, monthly, or even in the form of a stipend, and it’s up to your organization to determine what’s best and right for you.

For organizations, such as non-profits, that don’t have the resources to pay, know that you will have some legwork to do in order to ensure that interns are instead receiving academic credit. It is not enough to post the internship with “Credit” in the salary column. You must work with a school to ensure that your position qualifies and that they are in fact earning those academic units. Every university (and sometimes, as in the case of UCI, different programs within the university) has a different way of handling internships for credit. Yes, it could mean more work for you, but that is what it takes to make sure you don’t end up in a legal gray area…and no one wants that! 

Let’s recap…The questions pertaining to set-up that you should now be asking your organization are:

  • Where will the interns be working?
  • When will the interns be working?
  • How are we compensation the interns?

Okay, great!  Moving along, stay tuned for Post 3…Recruiting!

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