5 Tips for Hiring Startup Interns

Interns can be valuable resources for startups -- especially bootstrapped businesses that need help but can’t afford to bring on full-time employees. However, having a successful internship experience requires preparation.

Here are five things every startup should consider before hiring an intern:

  1. Offer Paid Internships
    It may seem logical for a bootstrapped startups to offer unpaid internships, but there are two reasons this is not a good idea. An unpaid internship creates a limited candidate pool. In today’s economy, people can't afford to work for free and are looking for an internship as a stepping-stone to a potential full time job. Offering an unpaid internship misses this opportunity. 

    Unpaid internships are also a legal minefield. There are strict federal guidelines around the hiring of unpaid interns and some states have additional requirements that must be met. Do some research on the U.S. Department of Labor rules and any state specific guidelines before selecting this option. You may be better off hiring paid interns and offering minimum wage.

  2. Work with Career Offices
    If your goal is to hire students, the most efficient way is to work with the university career office. Identify local colleges you think have the type of candidate pool you are looking for, and work with their career services office to get resumes. Most college career offices are eager help match their students with potential employers because it makes them look good. Be prepared with a detailed job description including any qualifiers (like "Marketing majors preferred" or “rising Juniors and above only”) before you begin the process.

  3. Interview Several Candidates
    This is perhaps the most important advice. Spend the time necessary to review the resumes and interview at least three candidates before you make a selection. Even if the first candidate you interview is a knockout, its important to interview everyone on your short list. This is good practice when hiring in general as you never know what the next candidate may bring. When you finally make your offer, include a 30-day trial period, at which point you can decide if the internship is working out or not.

  4. Build in Trust and Accountability
    When dealing with student interns, it is important to set expectations upfront. Discuss what the intern can expect to learn and deliver on that. Be clear about what the intern will be doing daily, to whom the intern will report, and how performance will be measured. Empower interns to be creative and give them some room to "run" with assigned projects or tasks. Equally important is accountability. Check-in with your intern regularly to ensure the job is being performed as expected and the intern has the training and tools needed to get it done.

  5. Hire with the Future in Mind
    Internships can be used as a pipeline for hiring future employees if handled properly. To achieve this, you should treat interns with respect, assign them meaningful work and offer the necessary training and tools to help them succeed. More importantly, let them see through your actions that you care about their work and always show them how their work fits in the overall picture of your company.  I have first had experience about the long term benefits of internships. At my current start-up, GiftCardRescue.com, three of my key employees started out as interns and were brought on-board as full-time employees after successful internships. That has saved me both time and money.

About Kwame Kuadey

Kwame Kuadey helps frustrated employees quit their jobs and become entrepreneurs. He is the founder of two startups, GiftCardRescue.com and Rhino Amply. Kwame has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur Magazine, The Washington Post, and on NPR and ABC’s “Shark Tank”. You can read his blog at BreakFreeNation.com

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