How to Build a Successful Internship Program for Your Startup

Interns serve a critical role in many organizations but can be especially valuable for early-stage companies and startups. However, building a successful internship program that benefits your company, as well as the interns themselves, can’t be done overnight. Here are some important questions to help you get started.

What do you want your interns to do?

One of the first things your team should think about is the work you’ll want your interns to take on. Although startup employees tend to wear many hats, it will still be helpful to think about specific tasks that would be well suited for an intern. Consult with department heads to find out how they’d plan to utilize an intern and if they have any projects in mind. Remember that an intern may not be working a full, eight-hour day or even five days a week, so keep their task list limited to things that don’t necessarily need to be done immediately or on a tight timeline.

In addition to day-to-day responsibilities, some companies task their interns with completing a longer-term project that can be worked on over the course of the entire internship and ultimately presented to the full team.

Figuring out these needs in advance will also help you craft a job posting that accurately reflects the type of candidate you’re seeking and properly sets expectations for applicants.

Who will mentor them?

An internship is an opportunity to be mentored, build connections, and learn more about a particular industry. Interns also get the chance to learn basic workplace etiquette and how to use some of the office tools and technologies they’ll likely encounter in other jobs (Microsoft Office, project management software, etc.).

To ensure your interns have a positive experience, think about who they’ll report to internally. While this won’t be the only person they engage with at the organization, it’s a good idea to provide a “go-to” point of contact so they’re not wondering where to turn for help. Ideally, this person should be someone they’ll be working with closely and who will be delegating to them during their time with the company. It should also be someone who can reliably check in with an intern, answer their questions, deliver constructive feedback, and ensure they have the resources they need for success.

Will interns have opportunities for growth?

A successful internship program can be a solid way to build your talent pipeline. In fact, if there are specific entry-level roles that you may be hiring for soon, an intern can serve as a bit of a test run. People will also be more excited about working for a startup when there’s a potential path to employment.

Of course, creating an intern-to-employee pipeline requires significant work on the employer side, too. Developing a thoughtful internship description that will attract the right candidates and establishing opportunities for mentorship are critical parts of the process.

Related: Three Ways to Identify and Nurture Leaders on Your Startup Team

Where can I find the right interns for my startup?

Colleges and universities are a great place to start. Reach out to your alma mater to learn how they can help spread the word through relevant departments, clubs, and programs. Depending on the intern’s anticipated roles and responsibilities, other community organizations may be well suited to promote the opportunity, as well. For example, if you’re looking for a marketing intern, get in touch with your area’s advertising trade association.

If you want to cast a wider net, be sure to post the internship via online job boards like LinkedIn and Indeed. You should also post the opportunity to your company website.

Related: How to Write a Successful Job Posting

Is now the right time?

If you read through this blog and found yourself thinking, “I simply don’t have time for this”—that’s okay! You may not be quite ready to build out an internship program. The last thing you want to do is hire interns (or employees) prematurely and not be able to provide adequate training or helpful feedback. Instead, use the questions outlined above to think about what needs to fall into place before you start hiring interns.

Related: 6 Ways to Attract and Hire Best-Fit Startup Talent

Summary

An effective internship program can be one way to cultivate trusted, longer-term talent for your startup. But partnering with a recruitment agency can also help connect you with quality hires that align with your organizational culture and goals. Reach out to our team at Viaduct today to learn more about how our total talent solutions can deliver the right people for your startup at the time when it matters most.

This blog was authored by Viaduct’s Director of Recruiting and Business Operations Tom Hausler.

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