What You Need to Know When Hiring Interns

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Co-Founder and VP of Marketing of Looksharp
5 min read
This story originally appeared on FounderDating

It’s that time of year again: intern-hiring season.

Interns are an essential part of every startup team, ensuring that a company grows with pre-vetted talent. At a startup, interns can fill in skill gaps that small teams are missing -- whether that is design, content writing or sales. Many famous startups -- from Facebook to Nest -- have built up their teams using smart intern strategies by hiring top notch engineering students before they even hit the job market.

For those looking to bring interns onboard, here are five tips: 

1. Pay is the way to go. There are three advantages to paying interns. One, paid interns are happier and more engaged. Two, paid internships attract a more diverse range of candidates. Three, you will avoid costly lawsuits. That’s right, lawsuits -- plural. In terms of how much an intern should be paid, here’s the general range you want to hit for each position type:

Communications/PR: $10-$15/hour
Marketing: $10-15/hour
Computer Science/Engineering: $15-30/hour
Graduate Business Student: $15-25/hour
Non-Profit: Unpaid/Stipend to $12/hour

Related: The Savvy Startup's Guide to Recruiting Interns

2. Recruit early. Look to start recruiting a month or two before the university quarter or semester system begins. Although there are peak times during the summer when more students are on the hunt, they’re ALWAYS looking for internships. Internship postings are typically structured around seasons that fall inline with university’s quarter or semester systems. Here’s a guide:

SeasonBegin Date End Date  Avg. Hours
FallMid-Sept. Mid-Dec10-20
SpringMid-Jan.Mid-April  10-20
SummerMay - June Mid-August 20-40

Related: 5 Essential Traits of a Great Internship Program

3. Hire with style. Working at a startup is much different than working at a large corporation. The intern you hire needs to be well informed about the startup lifestyle and your company culture during the interview process. On top of that, you want to look for an intern who’s a self-starter, doesn’t need much direction  and takes ownership over their own projects. Interns can fill in your company’s missing skill caps in areas of creative work, business development, content marketing, analytics and engineering. Here are some hiring steps on finding the best hire:

Initial screening. Have a 15 to 30 minute phone screen or interview.

Test them. If you like them, have them complete a mini project or task after the initial screening interview. Some examples include researching and writing an article, coding a funny webpage, putting together a short marketing presentation, providing you with three campaign ideas to increase user base or solving a business case. This will:

  • Give them an idea of the type of work they’re going to be doing.
  • Allow you to see how well they’re going to do as the actual intern.
  • Clear out any misunderstanding or miscommunication of what the position entails.
  • Most importantly, show you if the intern is a hit or a miss.

Follow up. If they have done an exceptional job on the project, have a follow-up interview. By now you should be down to two or three candidates and any questions you ask here is to ensure that you’d get along with this intern and that they’d fit in at the company.Ask them to come into the office or have it over a video platform like Skype or Google Hangout. 

4. Have a dedicated intern manager or a mentor. An intern should have someone to report to throughout the internship period. This employee can work both as their dedicated manager and as her mentor. It’s most likely going to be the person who runs the department that the intern is hired into. It’s important that the mentor meets with his or her intern on a weekly basis to go over project progress and to answer any questions.

5. Treat interns like real employees. It’s mind blowing how much an intern can contribute to a growing company. The traditional intern stigma of getting coffee and filing papers is long gone, especially in the startup world. It’s important to treat interns like full-time employees right at the start and assign them valuable work. Whether it’s redesigning a section of your website or researching for a white paper that will generate huge leads, have the intern do some of what you would do. This also includes having them sit in on meetings to better integrate into the company and to get a sense of what everyone else is up to.

The important thing to remember is that these interns you onboard can potentially become full-time employees. If they are exceptional during their internship period and you happen to have job openings, they will be one of the more qualified candidates to fill that position.

Don’t underestimate the power of interns. That intern you hire can be the one to take your startup to the next level. 

Related: Why College Students Need to Be Entrepreneurial With Their Careers

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