Can’t Find Decent Talent? Breed Your Own!

March 6, 2014

12:07 pm

Nearly 40 percent of all startup managers claim finding people with the right skills is the most troubling problem facing their business. Increased incentives to work in the startup world have brought about intense competition in the hiring space.

Top talent seems to be getting snatched up right out of college — so how can your small company compete with tech giants? The answer is as simple as creating your own internship program to teach young hopefuls the skills required to become top talent themselves.

Here is some broad advice designed to help you create an internship program of your own so you can start breeding your talent:

Creating The Program

Many job seekers today lack the abilities needed to excel in a tech startup, and many that do are unsure of where to begin looking to hone those skills. That’s where your company comes in.

Obviously, creating an internship infrastructure is going to be difficult. You want to be able to teach passionate amateur or mediocre young professionals how to be great, and that means planning everything from onboarding to day-to-day functions to discussing end-of-internship performance reviews and possible full-time opportunities.

If you and your team are passionate about your industry, teaching interns the skills required to succeed in it should come naturally. Time is something you’re probably lacking, so taking 30 to 60 minutes each afternoon or devoting an entire day to knocking out the details of the program will pay off in the end.

When planning day-to-day learning, make sure you start with the basics — giving interns small, palatable tasks at the beginning of the program — and let them work their way up to tougher and tougher responsibilities until they’re practically doing mini versions of full-time duties.

Assigning each intern a mentor to serve as a teacher and guide throughout the internship is incredibly beneficial for teaching them the more intricate workings of your startup, as well as giving them a taste of what to expect when they enter the business full-time. At the end of the day, your goal is to make your startup the ideal place for young, fresh talent to work full-time after their internship by showing them your awesome culture and giving them interesting, meaningful work.

Where To Find Interns

This is where finding the talent finally gets easier. Targeting your postings strictly to college students may not sound ideal, but your goal is to eventually turn them into top talent so they can work for your company.

Establishing relationships with college professors, advisors, and industry-related student organizations, and stressing the fact that it’s open to anyone passionate about getting into the startup business — at not just one college, but several — will give you a diverse pool of applicants to choose from.

Social media promotion, especially on LinkedIn, is also a great way to expand your network and get the word out. Even if your startup is small, acting like you’re the real deal by being engaging and appealing online will take you far.

What To Look For

So if you’re finding student candidates with little to no experience to fill your internship roles, how do you know you’re finding the right talent?

When promoting your internship, be clear that GPA doesn’t matter. Instead, let future candidates know your startup is looking for anyone and everyone who expresses a passion for learning about the industry, and a basic knowledge of the space they’ll be working in. Let them know that, even though the requirements to land an internship may be lenient, the process is tough and competitive, so applicants must be willing to show they’ve got what it takes.

When interviewing, make sure you’re asking questions that show off a candidate’s passion and readiness/ability to learn. Even having interviewees demonstrate their skills, however basic they may be, will allow you to judge their potential at your startup.

It All Pays Off In the End

After you’ve chosen your interns and they’ve completed the process — especially the first time — getting feedback on the program and how you can improve it will ensure that it keeps getting better and better. And as word gets out about how great your internship program is, more and more amazing talent will be inclined to check out your business.

The program may get difficult to maintain at times, but once it’s over and you express future interest in your newly-bred top talent, they will have a bond with your startup that’ll give you first pick when searching for new employees. If you keep your program running smoothly, you’ll have a constant, fresh supply of new talent. Suddenly, finding skilled full-timers doesn’t sound so hard now, does it?

Does your startup implement an internship program? How has it worked for you in terms of keeping top performers on after finishing the process?

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Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager, and founder & president of Come Recommended, a content marketing and digital PR consultancy for job search and human resources technologies. She is also the author of Lies, Damned Lies & Internships (2011) and #ENTRYLEVELtweet: Taking Your Career from Classroom to Cubicle (2010). Find Heather on Google+.

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