Running a startup is difficult. Day to day tasks aren’t laid out and being adaptable is the name of the game. Hiring more employees increases the stability and degree of specialization, but there are still points at which everyone is hacking at things not in their job title. This makes it difficult to take on an intern and use them effectively. Why not address this problem by culling together some advice from the source?
I spent a bit of time talking to my friends in TEC—asking them about their pain points and trading success stories. The following bits of advice have grown rather organically from these conversations.
Onboard the intern like you would any other employee, but make sure they’re given the opportunity to learn more about every department in the company. Interns are not only there to gain valuable work experience in their area of interest, but to see how a startup functions as a whole.
Be up front about best practices in terms of contact and communication. Even simple topics should be covered: does the manager want to be cc’d on emails regarding their work or is this considered annoying? What is the best way for an intern to set up a meeting with a coworker?
Establishing routine check-ins destroys potential bad habits like procrastination and excuse making. Include interns in stand up and round up meetings—their project should be important enough that it needs to be shared with the rest of the company. Accountability increases once their work on the project begins to reflect on their performance within the company.
Make all employees as easy to reach and communicate with, as possible—especially the CEO. It makes an impressive difference for an intern to feel like they have a direct pipeline to a founder. We are still at a stage in our life where learning is a priority. Giving us the opportunity to talk to you is invaluable.
The project needs to be important and difficult enough to warrant a ten week treatment. Give interns options for which project they’d like to take on and listen to the types problems they enjoy solving. Be open to restructuring the project in accordance to their strengths.
Give them a project that allows them to air the skills they have, but encourages them to learn more. Give interns the tools and accessibility to really manage this project themselves and avenues to advance the project that don’t require consistent check-ins from managers, or additional work so that they don’t sit idle when waiting for feedback.
In the final weeks, celebrate the completion of the project and review its effectiveness.
Good mentorship is key. This mentor need not hold the title of intern manager—Christiaan fulfills this necessity such that the startups need not—but it is important that interns are given a direct manager to check into that can function as a role model. Ideally this person is in the field the intern wishes to enter, and either far enough along to serve as a source of professional advice or young enough to really be relatable. Giving your intern a great mentor is a simple way to reinforce the mentality of learning, foster a culture of inclusion, and increase the utility of the summer for both the intern and the company.
While distributed workforces aren’t uncommon, it is best if the mentor can be in office for the majority of the internship. If no one regularly checks in on the project and the project is not part of the stand up, interns can feel estranged or underutilized.
Maintaining good office culture begins on day one. Have your talent lead/HR head/Office Manager greet them warmly and send out an email to the whole team introducing them, like you would any new hire. Create an inclusive environment and an atmosphere of respect in which the intern is not any “lower” than the employees in company structure. The little things matter—interns should have similar desk space and setup as other employees, and access to supplies. Interns should be invited to external company events.
Respect your intern as if they are a full time employee and take their suggestions seriously. Turn down misguided ideas gracefully and foster an environment where asking questions is not perceived as foolish. Empower interns on take on additional company responsibilities during the downtime with their project. A majority of interns from 2015 stated that they’d wished they’d had less down time—creating an action plan to erase “useless time” will make the summer better for both parties.
Share the “big picture” of the company early, and give interns intrinsic rewards, when possible. If your company interacts with people (most do) give them idea of what a happy customer looks like. Remind them that behind the software exists a consumer base that derives real emotional value from your product.
At the end of the internship, ask the interns how they feel the company could improve. Take this feedback seriously. The interns have more distance from the product than long time employees, and provide a fresh and educated point of view that is often highly valuable. If possible, attend the “final presentation” at True regarding your company. It will make the intern feel validated and it will give your company valuable feedback. If possible, give the intern constructive criticism on their time in the company, and how they can be more valuable employees in the future.
Additionally, clearly articulate whether there are hiring opportunities for the intern. Some of them are seniors and will spend their next year looking for gainful employment. If you think they are a good fit, let them know.