The Basics of Hiring an Intern for Your Startup

Caitlin Riederer

May 13, 2013 · 4 minutes read

Uncategorized

Industries like fashion and finance are infamous for hiring interns. Can startups also benefit from hiring students? The answer is a resounding “yes,” whether you choose to offer internships for a few weeks, or months at a time.

Interns provide high-value, low-cost talent and fresh perspective. Accordingly, the interns’ scope of work can (and should) go beyond stereotypical coffee making. By hiring interns, you can expand capacity for new projects or find students who bring new skills, such as graphic design, to your team.  While ambitious students lack the experience of full-time employees, they genuinely want to learn and excel.

Designing an internship position

So how do you get started? First, consider the following logistics as you design the position:

  • When will the internship occur? Full-time internships commonly occur during summer break, but you could also offer part-time positions during the fall or spring semesters. Make sure that a current employee has the capacity to mentor and manage the interns’ work during this period.
  • What level of commitment do you expect? Describe your requirements in time (days or hours per week) or key duties, such as managing your social media or achieving sales goals.
  • Is the location flexible? Traditional internships usually require face-to-face interaction, but long-distance roles provide greater flexibility to attract more students. Will there be any travel required?
  • What skills are required? Before enlisting an intern, determine whether you expect specific skills from day one, or if students can receive training and learn on the job. Be clear about whether you need an iOS developer, someone with a mastery of Microsoft Excel, or both.
  • What is your goal for the outcome of the internship?  Do you want to find aspiring entrepreneurs who are interested in gaining short-term experience, or candidates who are looking for full-time job opportunities?  If you’re looking for the latter, focus on hiring students who will graduate sooner.
  • Will your internship be paid?  The Department of Labor provides six criteria to determine whether interns need to be paid under the Fair Labor Standards Act.  These guidelines are heavily based on the internship’s educational merit and the benefits that the company receives.  In lieu of being paid, interns might be able to receive college credit through their educational institution.

Cash-strapped students may seek paid opportunities, but interning provides invaluable experience apart from regular compensation. In the long run, students take internships to build their resumes and unlock future opportunities like recommendation letters and networking.  Startups have an important edge when competing for talent because they provide great interaction and flexibility.

How to find great intern applicants

The next step is finding applicants. Recruiting for undergraduate or MBA internships typically begins three- to five months in advance, although many students look for last-minute positions. Attracting great applicants is a lot like real estate: location, location, location. After outlining the position’s basic criteria, you can publicize your internship in a variety of ways. Here are a few effective methods:

  • Submit a job posting to a college’s career center or post a message on the campus’s virtual job board. A university-branded site feels more credible than open forums like Craigslist, and helps attract high-quality talent during the recruiting cycle.
  • Contact on-campus organizations, such as a consulting club or the college’s entrepreneurship center, with a description of the position and your contact information. If the location is convenient, you could offer to attend a meeting in person.
  • Utilize local or national startup-focused sites such as Built in Chicago to broadcast the internship opening. While this may not reach as many eyeballs as a campus-wide ad, proactive students monitor these sites and will follow up.
  • Reach out to your network, specifically contacts such as adjunct professors at local universities.  They can recommend outstanding students or share your contact information with their classes.

Recruiting provides a great way to develop on-campus brand recognition. If your startup hires full time employees, internships develop a pipeline for finding new hires. After assessing students’ skills through the internship, companies can easily extend full-time job offers to top performers. While hiring an intern takes time and effort, the benefits easily recoup the costs if you plan for an intern well.

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