A Gift That Keeps on Giving: Why Paid Internships Were a Great Move For Our Startup
US President Trump has just rolled out plans to ‘make America great again’ by creating 5 million paid apprenticeships across the US.
Taking a page out of the books of European countries like Switzerland and Germany — where as many as 70% of school leavers choose to go down the route of vocational training rather than university — Trump aims to kickstart the economy by placing young people in valuable careers which will allow them to earn a wage, while learning real skills on the job.
While many leading global enterprises such as Google already offer internship programs, many earlier stage startups are stuck with misconceptions that interns are only suitable for unpaid roles and basic menial tasks. A quick browse of the internet will come up with various reasons why self-respecting graduates should NOT intern at startups, but very few reasons why they should.
We recently brought on our first round of interns for our media incubator, and to date have had a fantastic experience. Ignoring all the negative buzz online, we wanted to share some reasons why starting a paid internship program could be a great idea for your early stage company.
Offered a steady flow of engaged talent
Attracting experienced talent is one of the biggest problems facing companies today, especially companies with limited resources who can’t attract A-players with six figure salaries.
We viewed the problem as the chicken and the egg issue. We wanted people who were talented writers, with an interest and passion for the media, but we didn’t have the resources to hire a full team of experienced writers straight off the bat.
Instead what we did was search for people who had a background in creating content, the potential to be great writers, and who were willing to put in the hard work and learn to get there. We then matched these interns with mentors on our team who could get them to this position within 6 months.
In doing so, we no longer have to search for experienced writers to join our team and hit the ground running, instead we hire interns, train them up while paying them a lower wage, and then bring them onto the team as a fulltime member once they have reached the level they need to be at. While we did this with writers, this could easily have been developers, designers or strategists too.
We realized that if we did things right the first time, made an organized onboarding strategy, created digital resources which are re-usable, and involved different team members in mentoring and training, then we could create a system whereby interns came in regular waves, and then the most exceptional of them eventually joined the team.
Forced us to develop an onboarding strategy
At growing startups, far too often new members of the team are thrown in the deep end to sink or swim. HR departments are more often than not non-existent, and new members are expected to learn on the hoof, or by pestering their new team members.
However, studies show that an organized onboarding system improves team morale, communication, staff retention, and overall productivity.
Developing an internship scheme, that would be reusable for future waves of interns, forced our team to take the time to create onboarding documents, and organize training sessions which would allow new members to start off on the right foot.
Rather than making this the job of one specific person, the whole team was encouraged to pitch in, mentor and share their insights about different parts of the company, our culture and the media industry as a whole.
This allowed members of the team who would not normally do this type of role, to get involved and feel part of the new project by becoming mentors and giving training sessions.
Allowed people to work their way up the ranks
The benefits of paying interns, are that A) they are much more engaged B) as a company you are forced to find ways they can really add value and give you ROI.
Gone are the days of interns being coffee-boys and girls. If someone is going to get a wage and training then they should be doing something which adds real value to the team. As a result we started looking for more basic tasks which could be offloaded from more senior members of staff, and passed to interns.
Aside from their role of creating content, interns also began helping with social media, marketing, and finding new sales prospects, none of which was our original intention.
This was useful as it meant that new interns were not pigeon-holed in specific roles, and had the opportunity to learn about different parts of the company, while taking the weight off other members of our team in the process
Created more loyalty and improved team morale
If an intern comes to your company, feels welcome, and learns valuable new skills which will really help them in their careers, you can be sure as hell they will be keen to stick around afterwards, or at least look you up in the future. They will also refer new potential interns from their universities or personal networks who may be suitable for the role too.
The reason it is so important to offer a salary, and also make sure that the interns get as much out of the experience as possible, is that you are effectively training your next wave of potential employees, and the talent who will mould the future of your company. As the saying goes “Give a man a fish, and you have fed him once. Teach him how to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime.”
If you invest the time and energy into training your interns, they could well be doing the training themselves a short time down the line.
It is important to create an environment whereby people know that if they work hard, and go the extra mile, then there are opportunities for promotion and new opportunities. Millennials are looking for companies which can offer them the chance to learn new skills, and give them the chance to roll out their own projects, and improve their own profiles. Starting an internship program, and then bringing on the best members, is a great way to show them, and the rest of the team that the world is their oyster if they give their all.
While the first few weeks stretched our existing team to the limits, due to the extra workload on top of their day to day roles, rolling out an internship scheme has been extremely beneficial to our company, and culture as a whole. We can only hope that as we bring on more waves of bright young minds, and assimilate more ex interns into the team, that our scheme will be a gift that keeps on giving, and keeps on improving.