Should I Hire Interns?

Please raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally confused about hiring an intern.

When you initially think about it, you envision a super (cheap) intern swooping in, saving yourself from all of the work you have no time to do. The feeling of tranquility quickly dissipates though as your head of swirls with the logistics.

Where do I find an intern?

Do I have to pay my intern?

What paperwork do I have to complete?

Should I just hire a freelancer? What’s the difference anyway?

Getting the extra help you need doesn’t have to be stressful. With the right advice and resources at your disposal, you can easily find and land the intern or freelancer of your dreams — without headaches, huge budgets and legal problems.

We’ll walk you through the differences and similarities between freelancers and interns. When we’re done, you’ll know exactly who to hire and a little-known, secret alternative.

Freelancer, Intern – Are they the same? Not exactly.

Before you start recruiting, you need to write exactly what you need down on paper.

Some questions to consider asking yourself are:

  1. What’s my budget?

  2. Is it cheaper to pay hourly or per project?

  3. How much time do I have to dedicate to training or hand holding someone?

  4. Do I need this done ASAP? Or can I afford to hire a self-learner, who will take a bit more time teaching themselves how to complete a task?

  5. Which tasks do I need help completing because I am unsure how to do it myself?

  6. Which tasks do I know how to do but just do not like or have the time to do?

  7. How long do you need someone for – until the project is complete or on an ongoing basis?

  8. Do you have someone to manage this intern?

  9. Think about how hiring an intern affects you and the economy.

Your answers to these questions will help you decide whether a contractor or an intern is best for you. Once you learn the basic definitions of each, we’ll help you get started weighing the pros and cons.

Should I Hire Freelancers?


A contractor is a self-employed individual, who can work whenever and wherever they want to, and they are always paid – typically on a per-project basis.

Freelancers are usually very driven self-starters, who will not need you to coddle them throughout the project. In fact, they should be coddling you throughout the process, guiding you along the way.

They actually can (and sometimes do) hire interns themselves or outsource pieces of projects that require additional expertise or more time than they have.


  • Freelancers require very little of your time to complete a project(s).

  • Contractors are typically experienced.

  • They are usually experts in their field.

  • You don’t have to tell them what to do.


  • Potentially, depending where you outsource to, there may be language barriers.

  • Freelancers charge more than interns.

  • They typically take care of their own paperwork, i.e. proposals, quotes, invoices, etc.


Interns are usually college students, who want to gain experience (proven portfolio pieces) in an occupation, profession or pursuit.

An overwhelming amount of internships are unpaid, but many of these are flying under the radar and are illegal.

For an unpaid internship to be legal, the intern must be getting something in return for her time, which may mean college credit (which the student has to pay a lot of money for), stipends, covering commuting costs, extremely valuable experience, increasing her network and the potential for full-time employment.

The unpaid intern must almost be hindering your business and impeding on your time in order to be in good standing with the law. This is why it can be a headache.


  • Interns are cheaper than contractors.

  • Their motivation, drive and excitement is contagious.

  • They are loyal, when treated well.

  • Young interns, specifically Millennials, will give you the inside scoop to Millennial consumers, and you may even be able to hack their networks.


  • They can be a legal headache.

  • Interns are less experienced so there can be a learning curve and potentially training required.

So who should I hire?

It’s time to stop reflecting and start deciding: freelancer or intern or an alternative solution?

As someone who helps businesses make this decision daily, here is my opinion.

Work with a contractor if:

  • You have a tight deadline.

  • You have a good feeling about them.

  • You can tell they know their stuff.

  • You can afford their services.

Work with an intern if:

  • You want to give back to someone professionally.

  • You have something valuable to offer them too.

  • You know they are knowledgeable on a topic, but just haven’t had the chance to gain experience.

  • You have an incentive(s) to provide them with upon completion of their work.

If neither are fitting, consider a non-traditional, hybrid option: a freelance internship.

By now, I assume no one’s hand is still raised about internships. Of course, if I assumed wrong, please tell me in the comments below.

Ask your lingering hiring question(s), and I will be more than happy to help.

Maxie McCoy likes to offer a contrarian approach to success. If other motivational speakers preach about the big plan, the personal growth expert advocates starting small. She reckons you don’t always have to look ahead; it’s fine to cast an eye behind you. And for those wrapped up in what other people think of them? That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, she says. Just pick those people wisely.

“You are not alone,” she told the audience and fellow panelists at the “Make It Happen” track at WeWork’s Global Summit for employees in Los Angeles earlier this month. “I have spent the past seven years in rooms just like this, as big as 5,000, as small as 20. It didn’t matter if I was in London, Miami, New York City, or Dallas. The same thing continued to come up, which is, ‘I feel really lost.’”

The author of You’re Not Lost: An Inspired Action Plan for Finding Your Own Way, knows first-hand what it’s like to feel lost—and she knows she isn’t alone. Her audiences are filled with people who feel stuck in life despite accomplishments that might say otherwise. “Every one of these people are creative, well-educated, doing awesome stuff,” she says. “So why are we feeling this way?”

McCoy, who describes herself as a “reformed goal junkie,” believes that the biggest impediment to long-term success is being focused on the end instead the myriad steps that need to happen before getting there.

“We’re scared to take a step because we don’t know where that step is going,” says Maxie McCoy.

“We’re scared to take a step because we don’t know where that step is going,” she explains. “Or we’ve gotten to a cool place in our lives—with the ideal job, partner, body, apartment—but we didn’t actually want it. So now what? What’s next?”

Her approach? Make a determination, every day, to take a small step to make something happen, despite feelings of uncertainty. Small steps build on one another, she said, and cultivate the confidence to start implementing a bigger plan.

“What that is going to create for you is direction,” she said. “And direction is what you’re looking for. We’re not looking for the end destination. It’s reconnecting with our own power to make things happen.”

Sometimes, says McCoy, you might end up looking backward. Reflection on past triumphs can be a terrific motivational boost. “Most of the answers of where you’re going are in the experiences and data of where you’ve already been,” she said. “We just have to take a second to look behind us, to take inventory, and give it merit. All the mountains we’ve moved in the past, for better or worse, mean something. You’ll know what lights you up. You know the things that energize you. They’re here to tell you something.”

McCoy is familiar with the pitfalls of any career path: racism, sexism, homophobia. The key is to not let them reshape you. “If you are trying to fit into someone else’s mold—think of what a mold is, it’s a cold, hard limit,” she says. “You are limiting yourself.”

Instead, solicit feedback from people in your circle of trust, says McCoy. Ask them questions like, “What’s my superpower? Where do you see me in five years? What’s holding me back?” These are the people who believe in you the most, and she promises that eventually your image of yourself, and what they see in you, will match. “You will start to believe what they believe.” And you won’t be lost at all.

Photos by Lauren Kallen

Making products people fall in love with isn’t always full of romance.

Sometimes a match that seems made in heaven can turn into a nightmare. Sometimes everything is smooth sailing—but there are still unexpected bumps in the road. And sometimes, well, you might need a divorce.

Professional heartbreak is real, and it can sting just as much—if not more—than the disintegration of your first great love affair. Creating consumer packaged goods is an especially fraught business: Your success is dependent on everyone else going gaga for your product. Make a hot item, and your company can experience rapid growth—meaning employees often become “absolutely married to their work,”says Josh Wand, founder and CEO of the recruiting firm ForceBrands, who moderated a panel on the subject at The We Company’s Chelsea HQ. But with marriage comes a little heartache and pain. Here’s how five top executives weathered their own storms on their way to success.

When saying ‘no’ leads to millions lost

“When I started with KIND 10 years ago, my hair wasn’t gray,” said John Leahy, president of nut-and-seed-snack business. Early on, a major KIND account asked if the company would make them a private-label bar. Leahy declined: KIND was intent on building consumer loyalty through its own name and logo. A year later, that account said they’d found someone else to make them a private-label bar—and they were dropping KIND from their roster. “Millions of dollars down the drain,” said Leahy. Five years later, another major account was seeking a private label. Again, KIND said no. Sure enough, that account launched their own private-label bar, and dropped some KIND products. Millions more, gone.

John Leahy of KIND: “Weather the storm, fight for what you believe in, and the love will come.”

But Leahy was adamant that the company stay true to who they were, and the business still grew to 250,000 retail outlets from 25,000 in only eight years. Plus, the heartache healed: The first account eventually came back to KIND, and the second started reupping their orders. Long-term confidence is necessary, Leahy said: “Weather the storm, fight for what you believe in, and the love will come.”

There’s no such thing as too big to fail

Oatly originated at WeWork. Well, actually, the vegan, plant-based milk made of oats started in Sweden, but as general manager Mike Messersmith explained, their rapid U.S. climb began in 2017 with only three employees at WeWork 175 Varick St. Their vision was laser-sharp: Focus on local New York coffee shops and edge into the latté market.

Mike Messersmith of Oatly says his company finally got past its “growing pains.”

But Messersmith particularly wanted to get his product into the Irving Farm coffee shop he walked by every morning on the Upper West Side. Victory came early—his sales team got Oatly into the store. “There was a swelling song in the air,” he said. But then: heartbreak. Oatly became such a hit that their supply ran low. “We were not as good at making oat milk as selling it,” he said. The heartbreaking moment came when Messersmith walked by Irving Farm one day and saw a sign on the door proclaiming: “Sorry, there is no oat milk today due to a national shortage.”

He had to reroute his morning walk because the sign made him so anxious—a symbol of his company’s “monumental failures.” But they made it through those growing pains, and Oatly was able to reup production. Now they’re opening a new factory, and Messersmith is thrilled: “I can take a more direct route to the 1 train again.”

Teammates aren’t always dream mates

Companies are rarely built by just one person. But building a team is its own challenge. When she joined the skin-care company Supergoop two-and-a-half years ago as president, Amanda Baldwin was tasked with undoing and redoing a team.

First, she learned to cultivate patience—it took a year to find her own direct reports. “The org chart is a living, breathing organism, especially in a young company,” she said.

“Building a team is about matchmaking,” says Amanda Baldwin of Supergoop.

It’s tough to find people who can jump into the deep end. “Résumés are not good indicators of whether people have the stomach for a startup,” she said. “Building a team is about matchmaking. There are no good people or bad people, there are just the right people for the right job.” When it is the right person, they soar, she said, and the benefits to your own work life can be tremendous.

Battling impostor syndrome—after you’ve made it

Elaine Kellman tastes the flavors. Literally. As head of flavors for Citromax, she creates new flavors for major food and beverage companies.

Fourteen years ago, after a long career working for other companies, Kellman became bored. “The worst thing to do to a flavor chemist is to take away creativity,” she said. So she struck out on her own. But she didn’t realize everything she would be giving up by leaving a corporate structure—no forecasting department, no logistics, no one to talk overhead.

“It’s beyond believing in yourself,” says Elaine Kellman of Citromax. “It’s about believing in the person everyone else believes you are.”

Her first challenge came early, at an industry conference, surrounded by leaders in her male-dominated field. She fought impostor syndrome for days, trying to believe she belonged—until, ultimately, she realized she had just as much experience (if not more) than everyone else there.

“It’s beyond believing in yourself,” she said. “It’s about believing in the person everyone else believes you are.” She’s kept up her creativity by moving her office right next to her flavor lab.

Keep riding the wave wherever it takes you

Luan Pham was head of marketing at Condé Nast Media when opportunity came calling. He quit his job to work on—coffee creamer. But not just any coffee creamer: a nondairy version founded by world-renowned big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton.

“Follow your truth and what drives you,” says Luan Pham of Laird Superfood.

Hamilton was looking for a burst of energy and focus for riding 100-foot waves. He began by mixing his own blend made of coconut milk. But when the company—and early employee Pham—tried to scale the product, challenges abounded. To make the vegan, dairy-free creamer shelf-stable for a year, they had to do extensive tests—and were still manufacturing it in small batches.

Despite a friends-and-family funding round, they were running out of money. At the last moment, they found a mass-manufacturer. Pham is now glad he indulged his entrepreneurial streak. “Follow your truth and what drives you,” he said. And anyone who doubted him? Now they’re eager to follow in his footsteps—especially because Laird Superfood just raised a funding round worth $32 million (including from WeWork).

Graphic by Kelly Sikkema.

When Lisa Ling was a little girl, she wanted to be Marcia Brady. Lisa and her younger sister, Laura, would pretend they were the Brady Bunch—Laura as Jan or Cindy, their grandmother as Alice. “The television was always on in my house,” the journalist and author told the audience of WeWork employees at the “Student for Life” panel discussion at the company’s recent Global Summit in Los Angeles. “It was my favorite babysitter. I had fantasies about being on TV.”

The fantasies that took root in childhood only grew she did. At 16, she landed a hosting gig at a local teen magazine show called Scratch. “Worst name ever,” Ling says with a laugh. At 18, she was hired as a reporter at Channel One News, broadcast in schools nationwide. While at Channel One, she covered drug wars in South America, globalization in China and India, and democracy in Iran.

No longer a little girl enthralled by the glamour of television, Lisa developed a love of reporting. “I wanted to communicate stories,” she says. Her inspiration? Connie Chung. “She was the only Asian person on a national stage, and to me, she symbolized all that is elegant and graceful on TV,” Ling says. “So I set out to have a career like Connie’s.”

“I challenge myself to meet someone new every day and interact with someone entirely different,” says Lisa Ling.

While a student at the University of Southern California, she kept missing classes to go on assignments for Channel One. “I realized I was getting a better education doing what I was doing because I had a unique opportunity to be out in the world,” she says. “For a kid who didn’t have the resources to travel, this was the best education conceivable. I became a smarter person, but really, I became a better person.”

Ling recalls Channel One sending her to cover the civil war in Afghanistan, a country she couldn’t identify on the map, “and most adults couldn’t identify either.” She was just 21 years old, traveling with the Red Cross to Jalalabad. When they landed, they were immediately surrounded by young boys carrying weapons “that were quite literally larger than they were,” she recalls. When she asked how old they were, the local guide responded, “They do not know, but if you ask them how to operate an RPG or bazooka, they know.” This story had the most profound impact on Ling and her career. “That moment in Afghanistan, I realized this is what I should be doing.”

Ling’s career has taken her from Afghanistan to Iraq and even helped her diplomatically fight for her sister Laura’s safe return from the North Korean government. When asked about Laura and her colleague Euna Lee’s imprisonment in North Korea in 2009, she remembers the total fear her family felt—and the delicate way they needed to handle the request for the women’s release. “Never once did we make any accusations on what we believed,” she explains. “It was all about allowing the North Korean government to save face.”

Despite her success, Ling acknowledges there is “a tremendous amount of gender bias in the workplace. That is really undeniable.” While her show, This Is Life with Lisa Ling, has been on CNN for six seasons, she had to fight for it get renewed, and suspected it might have been because “maybe I’m not white and male enough.” Yet everything she’s been exposed to has compelled her to continue telling stories.

“There’s so much out there to acquaint oneself with,” says Ling, who sees herself as a student for life, seeking out new people and experiences every day. “I challenge myself to meet someone new every day and interact with someone entirely different,” she explains, encouraging others to do the same. “You’ll become more open-minded, smarter, and ultimately better.”

As the space between work and not-work becomes ever more blurred, questions about how to do this thing we plug away at for 30 or 40 or 70 hours a week become all the more expansive. In this column, we’ll delve into the novel dilemmas created by the new ways we work, as well as timeless questions over ethics, gender assumptions, and toxic work situations (and how to escape them). How we work is an important component of how we live—and we’re here to help you do better at both.

Something messing with your flow? Unload your work problems here, and you’ll not only feel heard, but you’ll also get unbiased, real-world advice. (That’s something your work sibling/spouse just can’t offer.) Tell us everything:

Q: I was advising a young founder (20-something) on how to best market his new app. We talked about how his target market probably spans generations. In referring to my peers (consumers over 50), he said, “Elderly people may not be as comfortable with technology.” Not only was I shocked, but I was also angry. Although some of my peers are challenged by technology, “elderly” implies frail, over-the-hill, and out-of-touch. I would never think to call his peers “kids.” How do you address ageism and stereotypes in the workplace without sounding like a cranky old crone?

As another person who is over 40, I find the fastest way to come off as a cranky old crone is to yell angrily at young people. They never take it the right way! Which is not to say that it’s not merited, sometimes.

I agree that “elderly” has some unfortunate negative connotations, perhaps because we live in such a youth-focused society that anything described as anything less than, well, young seems to carry with it the stench of mothballs. Is there even a clear, agreed-upon sense of what the word means? Merriam-Webster defines “elderly” as “rather old, especially: being past middle age” (which, what is that, even? 45? 55? 90?) and “old-fashioned” (fair, perhaps, but that could apply to any young-in-years hipster who insists on listening to vinyl on a vintage hi-fi and scoops up a portable typewriter at the local flea). The dictionary’s concluding attempt: “of, relating to, or characteristic of later life or elderly persons.” “Elderly” may be elderly, but what is elderly?

Personally, I like specifics, and feel that it’s never wrong to recommend speaking with accuracy: What’s the actual age being discussed? There is a huge difference between 45 and 90—generations, even. No group of people should be lumped together and assumed to be a certain way. We are all unique and weird and challenging and human—and for your founder’s purposes, we are all potential customers.

That’s where you make your point. Ask him what “elderly” means to him, and if, as a businessperson, there might be a better way to put it rather than discounting an ever-growing demographic of possible customers. You might say: ”‘Elderly’ doesn’t sit right with a lot of people who are 50 or over. I’d consider another way of describing this age group or groups that’s going to be much more helpful to your business. What age or ages are we really talking about? And why do you think that so many of them are bad at technology? Is there an opportunity for marketing your app?”

Ask him if he’s ever dealt with age discrimination, and how that felt. Making a joke in such moments also usually goes down better than rage: Tell him it’s quite funny that he sees your (and, yeah, make it personal! Personal is how we get our point across!) age group as elderly, because they’d see him as a kid—yet neither of those perceptions are correct, are they? Finally, you could note that he’s turned to you, who fits in the demographic he has broadly misconstrued, to instruct him. Clearly, his perceptions of the so-called elderly aren’t in keeping with what he actually knows to be true: that people at least twice the age of 25 can bring expertise, experience, and deep knowledge to a situation.

The way we start speaking differently about age is by speaking differently about age: not hiding it, but calmly and surely pointing out the problem when it comes up, regularly proving people who underestimate generations older than they are that they’re wrong, and continuing to have those real, honest, personal conversations as often as necessary while remaining professional about it. You can do this. You have the benefit of not only age but also wisdom. And keep in mind that everything, including the very app this founder hopes to sell, will someday age, wither on the vine, and die. If that makes you feel any better?

Q: I just moved to New York City from Texas and started working for my godfather’s company. They gave me the “good” cubicle right outside my boss’s office. After I was there for a week, my boss’s gopher handed me a candy bowl and informed me that the woman before me always had a bowl of candy, and I needed to uphold the tradition. So I did. The office goes through the bowl in a day or less. It’s starting to really add up financially. If the bowl is empty, my boss will knock on my desk and tell me the bowl needs to be filled … and he won’t give me my instructions for the day on what to do. If it’s full, he’ll stop and talk and tell me how much he likes the candy and then give me my instructions for the day. This small bowl has become a huge issue. Much of the office is on a Weight Watchers plan, and everyone participating comes to talk to me about the candy bowl and what it’s doing to their diet. This situation is distracting from my work and costing me too much money! What do I do?

You’ve heard of Sisyphus, perhaps? According to Greek legend, because of a variety of bad behaviors in life, he was condemned in Hades to eternally roll a heavy stone up a hill. It would, of course, roll down; he’d then have to push it back up again. This candy bowl is your Sisyphus moment. Luckily, you’re not in hell; it just feels like it. And it’s time to let the candy bowl roll down the hill.

Address it all calmly and clearly, in person, with your boss. “The candy bowl is distracting from my work and causing problems with coworkers who are on diets, and I’m spending too much time and money thinking about it. I am no longer going to manage a candy bowl.” Hold firm to that. If he protests, tell him simply that you will no longer be able to keep up with tradition in this case, for all the reasons you’ve mentioned. If he refuses to give you work because of it, spend that time looking for another job.

There’s another renegade move up your sleeve. Let the candy bowl “disappear” (i.e., sequester it away in your desk, or put it in the back of a kitchen cabinet, or hand it right back to the person who gave it to you). If someone asks where it’s gone, say, “I have no idea what happened to that” or “I’m not doing that anymore.” (It was never your business to have to deal with it in the first place!) This may seem cowardly or passive-aggressive, but let the candy bowl be someone else’s problem for a while. Shrug it off, do your job, and either start looking for a new job or stick around and avoid all candy bowls forevermore. Whatever you do, get out of Hades.

Q: Is it ever OK to trim your nails at work? Not at my desk, of course, but maybe a bathroom stall?

Nope, nope, nope. Don’t even try it—I can hear you click-click-clicking in my nightmares. Some things in life are meant to be done only at home, or in the nail salon.

Illustration by Jiaqi Wang