Interning at a startup company, as with any other thing in life, has both upsides and downsides. Having had the opportunity to work at both a well-established multinational company and at a startup, I believe there are significant lessons to be gleaned from both environments in terms of building a career- although there are a few that are particularly characteristic of the latter. Here are five things you need to know before interning at a startup:
1. You get to grow faster
While working at an established company does often hold the promise of earning a better salary and other such benefits, it may not be the ideal environment for interns eager to get ahead in their careers. The reason behind that is the fact that in a well-established company, the tasks of each employee are already well determined, and thus, there is often little room for an intern to acquire a larger skillset than those already decided for him/her. This environment can thus be limiting for interns who are keen on learning all of the foundational skills in the industry of their choice- and they may thus be better off working at a startup. At a new business, there are a lot of tasks to be done, but not a lot of employees to do them- and an intern at such an enterprise can thus expect to be wearing a lot of different hats while working there. Therefore, the pace of growth at a startup is fast, and one will always find themselves learning a multitude of new skills in tandem.
2. You get to pursue the career of your choice
Finding the career of your choice within a well-established company can be difficult due to the high number of fresh graduates opting for the same position. Although competition is healthy and desirable, it may also lead an intern to settle for a secondary choice, instead of going for the desired career. For instance, two years ago, I wanted to pursue a career as a journalist at an international company, but given the competition for that role, I was not selected, and ended up going for a marketing position, which was less competitive, in another well-established company. The decision of joining a mature company thus came at the expense of the career of my choice. Eventually, I resigned from the role and joined a startup instead to pursue the career of my choice.
3. You get to take on full responsibility
Given the low number of employees at a startup, if you have been made responsible for a task, chances are that you are the only one responsible for its accomplishment. So, if you do a good job or alternatively, a bad one, everyone would know about it. This serves as an extra motivation to always perform well, as your name is tied to every task you do. Taking on such levels of responsibility at the start of one’s career is an incredible privilege, and one learns to be accountable for one’s actions as well.
4. You get to learn new skills almost every day
The fact that a startup has a limited number of employees makes it possible for an intern to do a variety of different tasks, which simply would not have been possible at an established company. For instance, when I interned at a media startup, one of the first tasks that I was asked to do was to make more than a hundred calls over the course of a week to invite guests for a large-scale event that the company was organizing. This task taught me a lot of different skills- from learning to be comfortable cold-calling potential guests, to requesting the required information and building a database, and so forth. This is just one example though- for every week I spent in the company, I found myself working on a new task, and thus learning a new practical skill.
5. You get to learn entrepreneurial skills
Interning at a startup can serve an intern not only in acquiring a multitude of skills at a fast pace, but can also help them learn entrepreneurial skills from the founders of the startup. The beauty of startups is that the founders are usually working in the same office as the rest of the team. An intern can thus get a first-hand experience of what goes on behind the scenes at a startup- including learning how the founders build the culture of their company and so on. These observations are very visible in a startup as opposed to an established company, where it is quasi-impossible for an intern to ever meet the founders.
All in all, in my opinion, interning at a startup is a great way to learn foundational skills at a fast pace in an industry of one’s choice. However, it is also good to keep in mind that startups don’t have big budgets and while some of them allocate small salaries to interns, others don’t. While learning foundational skills is beneficial for professional growth, earning money is essential for survival. It is, therefore, important to have a clear vision of what you intend to learn and the period that you are willing to endure without income, before joining a team as an employee.