Much has been said about the value of internships for college students. At CK and CO, we have had a long-standing relationship with a state university. Their internship program requires seniors to complete a six-month internship as a graduation requirement. It has been a huge benefit for my company because it serves as a hiring pipeline. We get to know the individual and see their work firsthand. We get the benefit of their energy and enthusiasm. We also have found that interns are not stuck in the past and are tech-savvy. The intern gets a chance to see if they are challenged by the work and enjoy the workplace. They get to meet clients and work on projects across the country and the world. They also have the benefit of working with a team of professionals that care about their development.
We began hiring interns when we were past the start-up phase of business. However, many companies today are considering hiring interns for their start-ups. There are pros and cons to having interns when starting a business. Here are a few things to consider.
What is your workload?
Many times, businesses believe that an intern will take some of the work off the shoulders of employees. That may or may not be true. Every intern, no matter how smart or talented, needs guidance. You cannot just throw them into your work setting and expect them to perform. If your workload is such that you don’t have the time to train them, it is a disservice to the intern. The whole point of interning at a start-up is to get more hands-on experience than is available at a larger, more established company. Start-up interns want to be able to work with the owner or a higher-level executive. They want personal attention and mentorship. If your workload doesn’t allow that no one wins.
Do you have systems in place?
Start-ups are notorious for being a bit loose when it comes to organization. Much of the knowledge is “in the head” of the entrepreneur. That’s fine when you are doing the work but when you bring in an intern it is a recipe for disaster. In a start-up, there are so many things happening at a time that it can be chaotic and exciting. You must have systems in place and document your processes and procedures if you actually want interns to be able to do the work at your start-up. If you have systems in place, the intern can follow the process, be productive and learn. They can also provide valuable feedback and creative thinking about how to improve systems. That’s because they are looking at it with fresh eyes.
Do you have a network?
To get the best interns you need to have or be able to establish, a relationship with the right educational organization. That means finding one that has programs that align with your needs. In my case, I have a great source for interns in media production and graphic design. Perhaps you need individuals with an engineering background, logistics or retail experience. As a start-up, this is especially important. Your interns will be doing real work, not getting coffee or lunch for the workplace. You want them to have taken courses that provide them with the skills and knowledge necessary to tackle the work your start-up does. That helps you, and the intern gets valuable real-world experience. Additionally, an institution with a good internship program will have guidelines and advisors to help you navigate the process.
Are you prepared to pay?
It has always been my policy to pay interns. Today it is expected, and unpaid internships can go against Fair Labor Standards. Larger businesses have more cash to lure interns, so your start-up intern salary will need to be competitive. However, I believe that money is not the only motivation. Lots of those looking for internships are looking down the road at future employment with interesting companies. This is where the start-up has the edge. Start-up intern salaries can vary widely based on the industry and the location.
Before considering hiring an intern for your start-up, do exactly what you would do if you were hiring a full-time employee. Get specific about the qualifications. Make a detailed list of the duties. Find the right educational organization to partner with. And one last thing: be fussy. Find the right individual and you may end up with a long-term employee. Make a poor decision and you waste time and money.