I was recently at an event where angel investor Joanne Wilson said: "There would not be an Internet if it were not for interns." Her quote stuck with me and inspired me to write this piece. At my startup, interns are invaluable. We are running on a skeleton crew and interns play an integral role in daily activities. Over the last year-and-a-half, I have hired interns from a variety of fields from marketing to analytics to web development. Below are my key takeaways for hiring interns.
1. Hire based on personality/company fit, not always on experience.
This is especially true in a startup. When you are working on a small team, personality and cultural fit is key, even at the intern level. I have learned the hard way that hiring someone based solely on his or her experience can be a huge mistake. Most positions require innovation and out-of-the-box thinking, both of which are not necessarily gained from past experience. While prior experience is a plus (especially in web development positions), interns who have flourished with us have the "get stuff done" attitude and this is far more important.
2. Pay your interns.
I cannot emphasize this point enough. Too often, I hear of interns working ridiculous hours and not being compensated for their time. Not only does this generally limit the applicants to ones who can afford to work unpaid, it also lowers their motivation to succeed. From personal experience, interns who are paid perform significantly higher than unpaid interns. Paid interns show up to work on time and take the job more seriously. There is something natural about being compensated for one's time, even if it is a small amount. It instills in people the value of their work. Also, by having a tangible commitment to the interns, you are more likely to think carefully about how you use the intern, which will likely result in a more fruitful and productive collaboration. If they are not paid, it's easy just to ignore them.
3. Present the internship as a partnership.
Our company believes in growing our staff as much as growing ourselves, including interns. When we describe the internship, we present it as a partnership rather than a job.
We utilize the interns' skills and expose them to new things in return. We send them to tech events that interest them, even if it is not directly applicable to what they are doing for us, e.g., investor-speaking engagements. We are passionate about technology and startups, so we want our interns to learn everything about it.
We also sometimes include interns in our strategy discussions, and encourage them to present their ideas about the future of the company. We have found this to be invaluable because they gain confidence knowing that their opinions matter and they feel like a contributing member of the team. This is useful to us as well because we get a fresh perspective on things we might have overlooked.
These are just a few of my thoughts about hiring rock star interns. These tips have worked very well for me. I love seeing my interns develop because it is truly rewarding.
What kind of advice do you have for hiring interns? Post them in the comments.