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Interns can benefit Texas small businesses

As predictable in late summer as soaring temperatures and stifling humidity, prospective interns are looking for work in Texas small businesses.

The employment relationship can work out well for both parties: The intern gains valuable, real-world experience in a tough job market, and the small business gets a full-time worker without a full-time commitment. And, if it's lucky, the business might find someone it can mold into a full-time regular employee in the future.

Before hiring an intern, however, there are issues to consider.

According to insurance executive Kim Bittle in the Dallas Morning News, planning ahead is the first step toward hiring an intern for a Texas small business. Considering the type of intern a small business needs and the duties involved can go a long way toward finding the right person.

The hiring process is much the same as hiring a regular employee. The Texas small business owner needs a job description, whether the position is paid or unpaid, the objectives for the position and what experience the intern can expect to gain.

Taking the time to properly train the intern is essential, both to have the job performed correctly and also for operational safety.

Before getting too far into the process, the U.S. Small Business Administration says an owner needs to decide if the internship will be paid or unpaid. If the internship is paid, the going rate for a bachelor's degree-level intern is $16.21 an hour, the SBA says. At any rate, Federal minimum wage rules apply.

The biggest difference between paid an unpaid interns is that paid interns can do work that contributes to the Texas small business's bottom line - but the unpaid intern cannot, per U.S. Department of Labor rules. For example, an unpaid intern can shadow other employees and perform duties that don't have a business need, such as decorating a tray of cookies that won't be sold. In that case, the work was only a training exercise.

In short, if a small business needs an intern, it probably needs a one who is paid.

To that end, assign duties appropriately, the Dallas Morning News article says. Giving the intern - who is, after all, a new and inexperienced employee - a critical job could compromise the business. Have the intern work with an experience employee first to smooth the way.

The Texas small business that hires an intern also needs to make sure it has the right insurance that will cover the intern and thus help protect the business.

Remember, says the SBA, that the internship is a learning experience for the intern, not a traditional job. So the SBA has some items to consider.

Expose them, it says, to real-world tasks and experiences. Let them sit in on meetings to see how decisions are made. Give them a chance to take the first crack at a project; the owner just might find a way not considered before.

Mentor the intern, providing feedback and direction, and, when necessary, don't be afraid to let them know there's room for improvement.

Set guidelines. Most of them are obvious: appearance and attire, work hours and acceptable Internet and social media use. It's a job, not an opportunity to be paid to post on Facebook.

Let the regular employees know what is acceptable regarding the intern's job and what isn't. Just because there's an intern isn't an excuse for others to slack off or pile too much work on the intern. And make sure they don't assign the intern tasks outside the job description.

By following a few guidelines, an intern can be a boon to any Texas small business.

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