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A start-up owner’s guide to internships

With a smaller team and tight budgets, finding enough hands to work on essential tasks can be challenging.

This is where internships can prove helpful, providing a beneficial relationship for both the start-up opens in new window and the intern.

An intern can be a great asset to your start-up, providing a cost-effective method opens in new window of increasing productivity and output.

Internships can be a good route into employment for someone starting their career, too, and may lead to a permanent position opens in new window and valuable work experience.

The UK government estimated that there were around 70,000 interns opens in new window in the workforce in 2018, and the ISE found that 60% of interns opens in new window were hired into graduate roles with their internship employer in 2021.

While some interns may already have an idea of what areas of a business they’d like to go into, such as HR or marketing opens in new window, others may be unsure and internships offer a chance to experience working in different departments or industry sectors.


Want to learn more about managing and leading staff?

Discover more about managing people with our free Managing and managing people course opens in new window, with teaches you managerial effectiveness, the skills required and how to develop management skills.

As part of our Learn with Start Up Loans opens in new window partnership with The Open University, our online course is free to join, delivered by experts and includes a free statement of participation on completion.


What is an internship?

An internship is a fixed-term employment opens in new window to work in a business.

Internships can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a year, with a typical internship lasting around three months.

An internship provides interns with work experience that can enhance their employability and skills opens in new window and offers businesses additional help with tasks.


Who can be an intern?

Interns tend to be students, recent students, or graduates seeking work experience looking to get a foot on the career ladder.

However, experienced workers can take on internships to try out a new role, gain new skills, or change careers.


What’s the difference between a paid and unpaid internship?

While internships can be unpaid, many organisations, including the UK government, do not recommend this as they can be considered exploitative opens in new window.

If you do not feel your business can support a paid intern, consider short periods of work experience without an employment contract if you want to offer this opportunity.

Paid internships tend to be more desirable for applicants than unpaid opportunities.

They may have a more structured schedule and development programme as the interns may be classed as entry-level employees.


What are the benefits of hiring an intern?


An extra pair of hands

Interns can help support current employees opens in new window and carry out suitable workplace duties and tasks.

With interns taking on simple day-to-day tasks, this can leave you free to focus on other areas of your start-up.


Mentoring opportunity

Having an intern on the team allows existing employees to develop their mentoring opens in new window and coaching skills.

Whether shadowing workplace activities or providing more formal training, employees can share their knowledge and skills with interns, increasing leadership skills and reinvigorating their engagement with their role.


Brand ambassadors

Word of mouth can be a successful form of advertising opens in new window.

If an intern has a positive experience with your start-up, they can become the perfect brand ambassador, helping promote your start-up and your work.


Fresh perspectives

Interns may be able to bring fresh perspectives, challenge entrenched behaviours, and introduce new ideas to your business.

Interns who have recently left education may also provide insights into emerging technology opens in new window and younger consumer trends that may positively impact the business.


Future employees

Interns can secure jobs opens in new window with their internship company after the internship period ends if the employer allows this.

Interns trained in your start-up’s processes and practices may also be more familiar with the industry and the team, becoming valuable permanent employees.


What are an intern’s employment rights?

If an intern has an employment contract, they are considered a “worker” by the UK government opens in new window.

This means that they are entitled to be paid minimum wage.

This is not the case if it is part of a student internship that lasts less than a year.

If your intern is classed as a volunteer, they are not entitled to minimum wage but still have a number of legal rights opens in new window.

An employer may wish to cover any work-related expenses incurred by volunteer interns, such as travel costs.

Whether they are paid or unpaid interns, interns are protected from illegal workplace practices such as discrimination, and you must ensure their health and safety by following government legislation opens in new window.


How to hire an intern


Know your goals and objectives

Before hiring an intern, it’s essential to identify the tasks opens in new window you want the intern to help with.

Use this knowledge to understand what skills you need your new intern to have – be that marketing, accountancy opens in new window or anything else you may need.


Target colleges and universities

Internships allow students and graduates to ‘test drive’ an industry or role before making more permanent career decisions.

Colleges and universities with online job boards may allow you to post internship ads or share details of the internship on offer directly with their careers services.

This provides direct access to a large pool of potential interns.


Be clear on employment terms

Although formal contractual agreements aren’t always necessary, it helps to be clear on the terms of your intern’s employment.

It could be helpful to write everything down so it can be referred to later.


Schedule regular check-ins

Interns tend to have little to no previous work experience, so it could be a good idea to schedule regular check-ins with them to see how they feel opens in new window about the work they’re doing, to answer any questions opens in new window, and give feedback.

Asking your intern to give you feedback can also be a great way to identify any weak points in your management opens in new window and improve internal processes.


Want to learn more about what it takes to launch a business?

Discover the personal aspects of starting a new business with our free Entrepreneurial behaviour course opens in new window. As part of our Learn with Start Up Loans opens in new window partnership with The Open University, our online course is free to join, delivered by experts and includes a free statement of participation on completion.


Reference to any organisation, business and event on this page does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation from the British Business Bank or the UK Government. Whilst we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.

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