• Recruitment
a group of people sat around a desk working
Peninsula Logo

Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(Last updated )

In this guide, we'll discuss interns, their employment status, as well as the laws around paid and unpaid internships.

Hiring interns can be advantageous to your business. Not only can they bring fresh perspectives and new ideas, but they are also more cost-effective to employ.

But failure to ensure your legal compliance when hiring interns could have severe consequences for your business. This includes claims to an employment tribunal, legal costs, and even reputational damage.

In this guide, we'll discuss interns, their employment status, as well as the laws around paid and unpaid internships.

What is an intern?

An intern is a person who works for an employer for a specific period of time. This can range from a few weeks to a year. The individual may even receive a job offer from the business after their internship ends, if they make a good impression.

Internships allow the individual to gain experience in a particular field or industry. Work shadowing might be a prominent part of these types of work placements. For example, an intern might shadow regular employees to oversee what valuable skills, knowledge and experience they need to perform a role.

Other types of work placements might need interns to be hands-on in their role. For instance, they might be required to complete a particular project (or projects) by the end of their internship.

Can anybody be an intern?

Yes, anybody can be an intern - it's up to the discretion of the employer offering the internship.

Typically, businesses will offer them specifically to a:

  • College student.
  • Sixth form student.
  • University student.

Many employers also offer them to recent graduates from university. This is popular with businesses as there's room for a graduate to develop significantly - which could lead the company to offer them a permanent job.

Can you hire an unpaid intern?

Yes, you can hire unpaid interns. However it all depends on their employment status. For example, if they are an employee or paid worker - they will be entitled to National Minimum Wage. However, they're not entitled to National Minimum Wage if they are:

  • Young people doing a placement as part of a higher education course for less than a year.
  • Work experience students of compulsory school age.
  • Or unpaid volunteer workers working for a voluntary organisation, associated fundraising body or statutory body.
  • Simply shadowing your staff to observe what they do but are not doing any actual work for you.

It's also important to note that interns are workers if you promise them a future contract of work (e.g. with some graduate programmes or graduate jobs). So, you would have to pay them the National Minimum Wage.

Once you've established the employment status of your intern, check their Statutory Employment Rights. If you fail to comply with their rights, (e.g. providing the appropriate working hours and pay) they could raise a claim against you to an employment tribunal. This could result in financial loss for your company and reputational damage.

Is an intern the same as an apprentice?

No, an intern is not the same as an apprentice. Internships are mostly valuable work experience, and not always paid. Apprenticeships are always paid, and usually last between one and four years. They give apprentices the chance to be trained in a specific sector whilst earning money.

What are the advantages of hiring interns?

It's important to ask yourself whether hiring an intern would suit your company. Let's take a look at the advantages, so you can work out if it's the right fit for you. Benefits include:

Fresh perspectives

One advantage of hiring interns is that they can provide your company with fresh perspectives. Typically they’ll have freshly gained knowledge of the industry, so can take a step back and look at a job, idea, or service from a new point of view.

Not to mention, graduates who join your company for an internship will likely have transferable skills. This means they can use the skills they have gained in their degree and apply them to their role with you. For instance, they may be proficient in specific computer programs, meaning you can save time when training them.

Reduces workload

Hiring an intern may also reduce the overall workload of your employees, which can be especially advantageous during busy periods of the year. With a lighter workload, you might find your staff are happier and more productive. Moreover, there’s less chance of employee burnout.

For instance, if your company is busier during the summer seasons, you could offer summer internships. This is beneficial because you might not need the help after summer. So they prevent you from spending time and money on a permanent employee you don't require.


Another advantage of hiring interns is that it's cost-effective. For paid internships, individuals only need to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage. This - along with the fact they'll only be working for a set period - could mean they are cheaper to employ than a permanent employee.

By providing them with development opportunities, you're able to mold them into the employee your business needs. Ultimately, you could save time and money on recruitment if you choose to make the intern a permanent staff member.

What are the challenges of hiring interns?

Whilst hiring interns can be beneficial to your company, it can also be a challenging recruitment process. Let's explore these challenges in more detail:


One challenge of offering internships in your company is that it can be time-consuming. This is because you'll inevitably spend time training them, especially if they have no prior work experience.

As mentioned, it's best to start off an internship by asking the intern to explain their experience so far. This way, you can determine what you need to work on and how.

Create a training plan that establishes how much time you will dedicate a week to training them, and what they should learn by the end of the session.

Difficulty building relationships

Another challenge that comes with hiring interns is that it might be difficult for them to build relationships at work.

If they're a student or young person, they might not yet have the confidence to engage in conversation with people from another age group.

This can make it difficult for your team to work with them. For example, particular projects might require a level of collaboration. If your intern is too shy to participate, it could negatively impact any projects your team is working on.

Low motivation and commitment

Your interns might have lower motivation to excel in your company.

As they are only a part of your business for a limited period, they may not have the drive to perform as they know they won't progress anyway.

Not to mention, if you offer an unpaid internship, they'll likely be less ambitious because they aren't being compensated for their work.

How do you hire the best interns?

Hiring interns isn't necessarily an easy task. That's why it's important to prepare effectively and ask the right questions. You can do this by taking the following steps:

Evaluate your recruitment process

To ensure you’re attracting the best interns, you need to evaluate your current recruiting process. This means ensuring you've outlined the duties candidates need to perform on your job specification, as well as adapting your application process to make it more inclusive.

It's important to determine your needs early on. Think about what tasks you need your intern to perform, and what new skills they need to develop during this time. One way to establish this is by providing aims for the intern to have achieved by the end of their placement.

For example, you might state that interns need to have learnt how to perform a certain task or developed a new skill by the end of their placement.

Create interview tasks

Another way you can ensure you hire the best interns is by creating interview tasks for your applicants. This could be a written task, a presentation, or scenario-based questions. Whatever you ask them to complete, ensure it showcases their ability levels - so you can work out who would be best for the role.

Furthermore, when you interview candidates, consider their interpersonal skills. For instance, whether they seem confident, show enthusiasm, and are engaged when speaking with yourself.

But remember, the candidate will likely be young with little to no work experience - so ensure your expectations aren't too high.

Provide training

Once you've hired your intern, provide them with the training they need to perform their internship effectively. Work out the level of experience they have, as they might need basic training on a number of subjects. For example, this might include training on:

  • Computer programmes (e.g. Microsoft Excel).
  • Professionalism in client meetings (e.g. how to act and address clients).
  • Presenting in front of people (e.g. how to present a new project or idea to other colleagues).

Remember, interns will typically have a lower amount of work experience in your field. So stay patient and ensure you listen to their questions and concerns.

Ultimately, your intern will leave with a good impression of your business - which potentially could encourage them to apply for a permanent position with you.

Get expert advice on interns from Peninsula UK

Hiring an intern can offer your business several benefits. Not only are they cost-effective to hire, but they can provide fresh ideas and perspectives, as well as reduce the overall workload of your employees.

But you must ensure you follow relevant legislation when hiring them. Failure to do so can have negative effects on your business, such as claims to an employment tribunal, financial loss, and even reputational damage.

Peninsula offers expert advice on hiring interns. Our teams offer 24/7 HR advice which is available 365 days a year. We take care of everything when you work with our HR experts.

Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 028 2420 and book a free consultation with an HR consultant today.



Got a question? Check whether we’ve already answered it for you…

Related articles

  • a man in a garden


    Garden Leave

    In this guide, we'll discuss what garden leave is, employee rights during this type of leave, and the benefits it can bring.

    Peninsula TeamPeninsula Team
    • Leave and Absence
  • A woman clutching her stomach


    Menstrual Leave

    In this guide, we'll discuss what menstrual leave is, the benefits of offering it, as well as how you can create your own menstrual leave policy.

    Peninsula TeamPeninsula Team
    • Leave and Absence
  • A woman at her laptop and desk with a mug



    In this guide, we'll discuss what TOIL is, how it works, and the benefits it can bring to your business.

    Peninsula TeamPeninsula Team
    • Working Time
Back to resource hub

Try Brainbox for free today

When AI meets 40 years of Peninsula expertise... you get instant, expert answers to your HR and Health & Safety questions

Sign up to our newsletter

Get the latest news & tips that matter most to your business in our monthly newsletter.