Unpaid SEO Interns & Department of Labor Requirements
Are you scared? Well, don’t be. You probably haven’t broken any laws 🙂
The US Department of Labor has put forth 6 requirements if you are planning on hiring unpaid interns in your company (SEO, or otherwise). For the past 3 years or so we’ve had a very successful internship program at Elite Strategies.
Many of our interns have gone on to gain full-time employment with our company or have gained employment from other marketing agencies.
Here are the requirements taken directly from the DoL website.
- The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which 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 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 at the conclusion of the internship; and
- The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
Essentially the main point is that the intern should be given credit hours in exchange for work, and the intern really shouldn’t be substituted for a full time position.
For instance, if you are an SEO company you can have an intern write some content or build some links, but they can’t be your primary content writer. You also must provide guidance to them i.e. give them meaningful on the job training.
Getting started with interns
For starters you should really develop a curriculum for each intern you bring on. We have 4 basic internship profiles at our company:
- SEO intern
- social media intern
- design / development intern
- general intern
For each intern profile, we created a curriculum for each profile. For example our general intern who is geared towards a student with a wealth of knowledge but is unsure what direction they want to head in is given a curriculum with these main points:
- design & create social media profiles for clients
- utilize social media management program to manage client social media
- basic communication with clients
- finding blogging opportunities within the industry
- interacting with influencers on social media
- editing source code on existing websites
- assisting with creation of web properties
During the internship interview process you need to establish a few things. You need to find out what hours they are available and what direction they want to head in.
Once you have their hours and their interests, you can give them a packet that includes the hours they will be working (usually 10-20 hours per week) and a curriculum for work purposes.
Fulfilling University Requirements
This part is tricky but is actually way easier than it seems. I’m not going to give away all the secrets on this one but you basically need to form a relationship with someone at the University and go from there. Once you are “in” with them they will tell you what they need from you. With one university all we needed to do was send the hours they interned. Another university required us to submit a weekly report on what they completed. In short, it varies.
Luring interns into your den
We normally do a hardcore push 2x a year, summer and winter. We run a PPC ad on Facebook targeting local students, and also post on local college / university campuses. We also created a landing page to collect sign-ups. If you are an established internship provider you’ll get a bit more assistance in getting interns.
This year for instance, we closed off our application window within a week because we got such a large response. The first year is the hardest, but if you do a good.
If you have a good plan of action and show your interns that you are a reputable company that is going to teach them something, you will no doubt be able to find several good interns within a short period of time.
As far as “how many” interns to hire, that is up to you. We usually don’t take on more than 2-3 at a time. We have a small office so we really can only handle a few at a time. Your call.
It’s not that easy folks
Many people think that having interns is just as simple as having a pool of free labor. It is not that easy. Most interns crave knowledge and want the experience so they can work at a big firm. They do not want to do “busy work.” We’ve had several interns quit because they felt we did not challenge them enough. We learned from this rather quick which is the point where we started creating curriculum.
Personally, I was lucky enough to have an internship at an ISP in the early 2000’s. They didn’t trust me with any of the really important stuff, but I had the opportunity to learn the inner workings of the company and learn many valuable skills.
For more info checkout this nifty handout from the DoL.