9 Tips for Nabbing the Best Intern for Your Startup

June 14, 2013

3:43 pm

Forget everything you’ve heard — you don’t have to be a big-name brand or Fortune 500 company to land a stellar intern. In fact, students crave the startup work experience that provides access to valuable projects, passionate innovators, and fast-paced learning environments ideal for students looking to gain hands-on experience.

That said, finding interns who are a perfect match for your startup isn’t always a walk in the park. Your unique startup culture requires you to find students with a matched set of values, a grasp of your vision, and the necessary technical skills to get the job done. This challenge alone turns startups away from devoting the resources to building internship programs.

Never fear, with the right amount of energy, your startup will be on the right path to hiring its next superstar. Put the following tips into play to land your next startup intern:

1. Sell your startup culture. Yes, your startup’s values and vision are worth bragging about. Students seeking internships are looking to become valued members of a passionate team. It’s time to market your startup accordingly — interns are waiting.

What does your startup embody that’s worth sharing? Is it a love for the outdoors? Do you have brilliant engineers and a world-changing technical vision? Think of your startup’s culture as a puzzle, and break it down to find out what values your company thrives on. These are what you need to be selling to intern candidates on your website, in your internship listings, and on social media websites. Articulating your startup culture will help you nab interns who share similar interests and values and can hit the ground running from day one.

2. Get noticed. While job boards might feel a bit stale when searching for full-time employees, they are a great way to find interns. This is due to the fact that many interns use simple keyword searches to find internship opportunities in their area, rather than honing in on specific companies they’re hoping to be hired at.

Don’t miss out on a large pool of intern candidates by simply posting your internship opportunity to your company website. Internship-specific job boards will give you access to a larger, more qualified pool of intern candidates. A great way to attract the best interns for your startup is to generate enticing, descriptive job listings. With so many internship opportunities available, you really have to sell your position unlike anyone else.

3. Go where your future interns are. Finding the right channel to reach potential intern candidates is crucial to nabbing talented students. Where are your future interns hanging out online? Better yet, where can you go to check out what impressive projects the students in your industry are currently undertaking?

Aside from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and blogging websites, be sure to get familiar with industry-specific websites related to the internship position. Looking for designers, developers, and creative types? Dribbble or GitHub will give you access to a first-hand look at the work of potential interns. Remember, sometimes the best intern candidates aren’t even looking for an opportunity.

4. Make the right connections. Tap into who you know to draw in better intern candidates for your startup’s internship program. The best connections for intern hiring are with college career centers, departments, professional student organizations, and prominent professors. They will act as the messengers for spreading the word about your internship opportunities.

Building strong educational relationships will give you a chance to become a regular attendee at career fairs, participate in on-campus speaking engagements, and even visit college classes for closer contact with potential intern candidates while engaging them with a taste of your startup culture.

While you probably can’t make it to every career fair or college classroom, you can always offer to provide information and speaking engagements via webcam. This opens the door to accessing top potential intern candidates anywhere in the nation.

5. Stand out from the crowd. Aside from competitive compensation rates and exciting projects, what else do you have to offer potential interns? Would you consider allowing your interns to receive a travel stipend, paid meals, or a gym membership?

Try to think outside of the box to get around a tight budget. Some day-to-day perks might include direct interaction with clients, attendance at industry conferences and trade shows, as well as paid travel to these events. You can also give your interns access to free software training under the direct guidance of industry experts. But most importantly, don’t forget to have fun with your interns — this is a perk in itself.

6. Be the expert. Let’s face it, students want to learn from the experts in their industry. Build your employer brand to position you as an expert to draw in passionate students. Your internship opportunities are valuable, hands-on learning experiences.

Take part in networking events focused on young talent within your industry, speaking engagements, and interacting with students on social media platforms. Regularly answers internship or industry-related questions on Quora, or even hold a Google Hangout Q&A session where you answer the burning questions of students hoping to get hired within your industry.

7. Be flexible. When it comes to internships, students regularly seek out opportunities based on how well they match their schedule. Is your internship opportunity flexible enough to match a busy college student’s schedule? If not, it’s time for an adjustment.

Improve the flexibility of your opportunities by offering virtual internships. This opens the door to a more diverse pool of intern candidates, a great ease for schedule accommodation, and a reduction of daily work-based interruptions. Virtual internships may even take over as the norm in the future, so why not jump on board early?

8. Use your intuition. Too many startups fall into the trap of hiring candidates based solely on their work experiences. But hiring based on skills and experience alone could leave you passing up a diamond in the rough. What about the computer science student with a number of personal web development projects and a great attitude, but no previous internship experience?

Finding the right fit for your startup might actually come down to the right personality and soft skills. These things aren’t easily displayed on job applications or resumes. Be sure you’re allowing candidates with a variety of experiences through to your interview rounds where you can gain more insight into their personality.

9. Challenge your potential interns. Toss out more traditional intern hiring processes for something outside of the box. Many companies are coming up with intern challenges to attract talented students within their industry. At Under Armour, they created a social media challenge to help them land the “Ultimate Intern.”  Those interested in the internship were asked to upload their resume and complete social challenges throughout the application process — like a 40-second speech and an interview with an athlete — to prove they have what it takes to excel at the company.

Your startup is bound to land great intern candidates with the right amount of time and focus. Share your company culture and unique offerings to engage students today!

What are some unique ways your startup is engaging potential intern candidates?

Guest author Nathan Parcells is co-founder and CMO of InternMatch, an online platform connecting the best intern candidates and employers. Connect with Nathan and InternMatch on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

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