What to consider when hiring an intern for your startup

The following is a guest post written by Erin Bury. It originally appeared as a column in Women’s Post and was published earlier today on her personal blog.

The startup I work for is a small team. But what we might lack in manpower (there are a whopping four of us) we make up for in ideas. We have an ideas wall where we post upcoming features, bug fixes and what we call “crazy ideas” – the things we would do if we had unlimited time and money.

Since I’m the whole marketing/communications/social media/events/PR team (my title barely fits on my business card) it’s been necessary to take advantage of outside sources of help over the past two years. My favourite place to get help is from interns. We’ve had several amazing interns over the past two years, including Jenna Stothers (who is now working at High Road Communications) and Cristina Graci, who is now an entrepreneur herself.

I do a lot of speaking engagements with new entrepreneurs, and the question I get asked most often (aside from ‘what the heck is a Community Manager’) is how do I find a good intern? So I thought I’d share some insight from my experiences, and hopefully lead you to the next great addition to your team. Here are a few things to consider when hiring an intern for your startup:

1. Find someone who is interested in your industry. This might seem like a no-brainer, but I don’t think many people actually follow this advice. When people look for an intern they look for a skill set – a developer, a marketing person, or someone who is adept at social media. But they don’t consider whether that person is actually interested in their business. Whether you own a bakery or have an online startup you need to find someone who’s interested in your industry – you’re passionate about your business, and you need someone who’s going to share at least a little bit of that passion.

2. Don’t get them to bring you coffee. When I think of interns in 2010 I don’t think of someone who grabs coffee for you and sorts out your travel schedule. Interns today don’t just want to do admin tasks, although they certainly have a place in internships, just like in any other startup position. When you create the job posting cater it to the type of experience the person will get. You’re not just offering them a position, you’re allowing them to learn from your expertise.  Make sure you are balancing their admin tasks with projects that will expand their knowledge and increase their area of learning, and sit down with them weekly to answer questions and share your experiences.

3. Know where to look. The biggest problem with finding in intern is knowing where to post your opportunity. While sending out the job description to your contacts and posting it on your online properties is a start, I’ve found that approaching schools is a great way to find talent. I’m partial to Humber College’s public relations program – the students are eager to learn about PR, and take social media courses as part of the curriculum so they’re quite online-savvy. Regardless of the area of expertise you’re looking for, there is a program out there that is filling internships for students. And the great thing about school internships is that students get credit for them – so you know they’re going to work hard and not brush aside the position if another opportunity comes up. Get in touch with academic institutions and find out how to post your opportunity, they’re usually more than happy to help.

4. Make sure to set out parameters. I know that as a startup you have limited resources, and it won’t always be possible to pay an intern a salary. While I’ve definitely had success with unpaid interns, I find it’s most effective to at least offer a weekly stipend. It makes your position more attractive (especially if you’re posting at a school where you’re competing with established companies), and it helps set out a routine. When you have a paid intern they are expected to be in the office the hours you set out, whereas with unpaid interns they often have part-time jobs or other commitments that they take on to pay the bills.

5. Don’t forget your responsibility in the equation. While an intern’s responsibility is to help lighten your workload and contribute to the daily grind at your startup, you also have a responsibility. Your responsibility is to ensure that your intern walks away with new and improved skills, a better understanding of what it’s like to work at a startup, and great additions to their resume. I also think it’s great if you can help them find a job after they leave you, especially if they’re unpaid. The least you can do for them is send out a few e-mails and check for opportunities.

Hopefully that helps your intern search – I’ll be welcoming our new full-time intern Emily Moorhouse in January, and I can’t wait to teach her all about startup life.

Photo: Women’s Post