You know the value of hiring interns: They should make your life easier. They should own responsibilities—small, medium, and large—like any one else at your startup. They should be a part of your team, and you should value their opinions.
When you’re part of a small team, every person counts, your interns included. When you hire the right interns you might end up growing your batch of promising entry-level employees.
As Mashable reported a year ago, 62% of interns who are hired by companies are still working for those same companies five years later. That’s a great statistic to think about at a startup: Find smart and dedicated people, and then keep them around for a long time.
We have advertised for interns on job boards, but we haven’t ever hired anyone who’s replied to these ads. In general, the people whom we’ve met at career fairs have lacked the enthusiasm we’ve wanted.
I won't hire anyone who has contacted us and doesn’t bother to say why they’d love to work for SkillBridge or how our mission is interesting to them. I want to find the passionate people who are committed to disrupting the status quo.
I don't think age matters. I’ve had high school students through to grad students who have been amazing. What matters is who is passionate about doing the work. Peter, now a senior at Yale, applied for his internship months before applications were even available, by sending a cold email—and it worked! He had that same passion all summer long and was a joy to work with.
My own internship experiences were generally pretty "meh." One reason was that I wasn’t ever given important or essential work to do. That’s why I am convinced that to get interns excited to work for you, it is essential to keep them motivated by allowing them to take on impactful projects.
Don’t ever assign them desks far from the rest of whatever team they’re working with. The key to success is integration. I would never, ever, create an "intern" area of the office.
Second, if you want an intern to work for you, it’s going to take a little bit of money. If an intern is worrying about how to pay her rent, she’s probably not going to be putting in her best efforts at the office. In life, you generally get what you pay for.
Nobody likes to be micromanaged, but especially when an intern is new, some level of it will likely be necessary. And just as important as work, it is important to manage how your interns are doing in life. How’s school? Family? And your job hunt? Maybe the intern has a final exam at school. In that case, tell her that it’s okay to change around her schedule, and find an alternative day to work. These are things that are likely important to interns, and for them to know that they can ask you questions, means that they’re really a part of your team.
When not in meetings with outsiders, I encourage you to implore your interns to be assertive. In most businesses, people on the bottom of the totem pole have a very different—and valuable—perspective from people on the top. I’d rather know about any potential problems or concerns when my intern notices them than when it becomes a problem that customers notice. When hiring any intern, ask them to critique your business. What they say they don't like about your company or product says a lot about how they think and can be valuable information for improvement.
If an internship has the possibility of becoming a full-time job, I would let the intern know this immediately. If they know from the get-go that there’s a good chance they’ll be working at your company for years, they will be far more likely to make positive contributions and work hard.
—Stephen Robert Morse is on the founding team at www.SkillBridge.co, where he heads Marketing, Communications, and Advertising. He founded MyTwoCensus.com, worked for Quirky.com, Seamless.com, and Lightbox.com. Follow him on Twitter.