Intern dramas: how to navigate hiring, short stays and delegating tasks in the year of disruption

At a time when jobs are being cut due to business closure, social distancing measures, and other financial challenges brought about by the new corona virus, many European startups are still on the hunt for talent. Internships are particularly likely to survive the pandemic’s devastating impact, especially as some students are even taking the semester or year off while waiting for the virus to be contained. This situation creates a fertile breeding ground for companies to hire highly motivated top students to fill their internship roles. But hiring interns at a startup can be quite different from hiring at a big company, even more so these days, when entrepreneurs have to make virtual internships work during COVID-19.

The best practices I am going to outline below serve as a good reminder of how to successfully execute an internship programme that can benefit both your startup and the young talent you’re hiring.

  1. Set clear goals and expectations

When it comes to hiring a new team member, it doesn’t matter whether he or she is your next intern, Software Engineer or Sales Representative. It’s critical you determine the goals and expectations you have for this position. That being said, you should be able to clearly outline the intern’s daily responsibilities, if it’s going to be paid or unpaid and how many hours per week they will be working. Also, if there are any specific tools your interns will need (e.g. laptop, Adobe Suite for graphic design), plan accordingly in advance so they don’t feel lost when they start the programme.

2. Highlight the perks of working in a startup

At this point in their career, young talents are not primarily interested in job security and high financial compensation at the end of the month. A startup is a perfect place for them to kick start their career and make a more significant impact. So make sure to highlight that, while there will be no renowned name on their CV, they will be working on cool, world-changing products and not just the usual, tedious tasks common to more traditional internships. Don’t forget to mention that they will have the opportunity to work with multiple parts and roles of the business, which is very unlikely in a large corporation that often struggles with breaking silos between teams.

3. Stay connected and pair your intern with a mentor

Despite the current remote on-boarding challenges that most companies face, you have to ensure proper communication with your intern. Engaging with them daily via different chat apps to answer questions, provide feedback and make them feel they are part of the team is crucial. Ideally, it would be best if you also assigned a mentor for helping interns grow their knowledge and skill set, especially as they navigate the remote work learning curve. Though this might sound like extra work, it can prove to be immensely rewarding to pass along your knowledge, bounce off new ideas and trends with your intern while also improving your problem-solving skills. As a mentor you’ll have to schedule in feedback rounds and review sessions. This, in turn, will help you shape managerial skills and see what can be done better in the internship programme.

4. Provide a single responsible person

Inform your intern as well as your other team members that there is only one responsible person for this internship programme. As is the case with most startups, assignments for the interns might come from different people. That’s perfectly normal and probably even beneficial for the intern to have his/her fingers in many pies. However, make sure there is a designated gatekeeper who is in charge of managing the intern’s time, filtering through the tasks and ensuring they are not overwhelmed by an unrealistic to-do list.

5. Assign your intern a long-term project

Even though internships are relatively short and it takes time to explain to a young newcomer the intricacies of your company, you should try to give interns at least one long-term project that they will lead themselves. It can be anything from the range of a marketing campaign to a series of short videos. This provides them with the perfect opportunity to unleash their creativity, grow in self-confidence, and strive to realise their full potential. Plus, it’s a hands-on experience they can easily refer to in their next job interview. Of course, you’ll rely on your intern for many random, smaller tasks, but remember that most of them want to achieve specific goals and feel they are an important part of the team.

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