Let’s start with a full disclosure. This post was written by an intern with a simple argument – start-ups should make good use of intern services and not just use them for grabbing coffee or researching/processing/pushing/crunching data. Since I’ve pretty much spent all summer interning at Mojo Motors, here is my take on what interns can offer a company, why it is important to pick them well, if companies should pay interns, and how you can benefit most from an internship program.
Make the jump for answers to all of your intern related questions and an intern’s experience at a start up.
Why hire an intern?
First things first; interns will take work off your plate. This means whomever’s dish they eat off of now has more space. Your managers can then focus more on what they do best. Interns are also fresh blood and they offer a new perspective on the processes and problems in your start up–the intern freshness factor. They have new ideas, new insights, and good, even great, feedback.
Maybe an intern will come up with an idea you never thought of, or maybe they’ll just confirm your own apprehensions, concerns and conclusions. Don’t underestimate the freshness factor. Interns are easy to find and there are a lot of young, motivated and smart people straight out of college or still taking courses. What is harder, however, is selecting an intern.
How do I hire the right intern?
An intern should help out, not consume resources pointlessly. Yes, they will require a bit of training and guidance. The better fit an intern is, however, the fewer resources he’ll burn up and the bigger the resource he’ll become. Don’t hire an intern based on experience or academic major alone. In fact, those are the two things that matter the least if you don’t seek technical know-how. Hire an intern based on character and brains.
You have to take the time to sit down, talk to the intern and find out whether he or she is someone you would want to work next to for 8 hours (or 14 hours) a day and then grab a beer with after work. Do they fit into the company culture? Do they seem smart? Are they motivated? Take this process seriously. A start up has an ever changing environment (it should, at least) and it is very important you hire an intern that can adapt and actively contribute to that progress. Versatility, adaptability, and ability to understand the position and needs of the company are key. Don’t forget, even if you hire an intern for a few months, an internship program can also be a good pool to pull potential full time candidates for the future.
Do you need to pay your intern?
Yes, pay the intern. You might take this with a grain of salt, as this writer would be on the addressee field of that check, but hear me out. Compensation makes the intern more responsible and accountable for their work. It means a company values their work and expects them to do a good job. If you are making your intern do serious tasks and expect them to deliver the best possible work, they deserve a paycheck. Additionally, if your internship program pays, your company is more likely to put more effort into selecting the right intern, which will pay dividends for both parties.
How can you get the most out of your Intern?
Make sure the intern can easily access other folks in the office, ask them questions, get advice, chat about sports or just listen to different departments interact. Not only will this keep the intern interested, it will also help them better understand the company and what is happening. This means they can focus efforts where it matters most and operate with a better context. Giving meaning and a context to anyone’s tasks is key for motivation. This will also maximize an intern’s ability to tailor their work to the company’s greater efforts. I had the luck to intern in a great environment, where I could ask anyone any question, get good advice on my work and on life, and joke around (quite a lot—never too much).
I also worked hard and took everything seriously. Part of what kept me well motivated, other than the frequent office jokes, was my opportunity to test out different things. An intern is there to learn. In my case, I was at Mojo to learn a wealth of different things and not just to specialize in one thing. At start-ups, everyone tends to mow more than just one lawn, which is why such a company is a great setting for an intern to gain a lot of insights. Have every intern work on multiple projects, don’t assign them a strict role.With this also comes a certain degree of freedom for the intern. If they have gained your trust, give them some liberty and flexibility. This is management 101, but too often it is forgotten.
What’s happening in that picture?
I didn’t listen to the bossman’s directions.
Alvaro Marin Melero was an intern at Mojo Motors during the summer of 2012. He hails from Spain, likes diesel engines, carbon fiber and ridiculous architecture. He is currently an undergraduate at Franklin & Marshall College and is taking a year off to explore architecture at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.