Hiring Interns

Hiring Interns

Done right, hiring interns is a win-win situation. You get somebody who’s keen to dive in and help out, and will bring a fresh perspective to your team. In return, the intern gets solid experience of a real start-up as well as the possibility of a job further down the line.

Common questions are:

  • How much do you need to pay an intern?
  • Do you even need to pay an intern?
  • What kind of contract is needed?

Interns can be employees or volunteers. You have to decide which makes sense for you. To decide, ask yourself these questions:

Are you hiring someone to do meaningful work on a longer term project? Will the work last more than three months? Is the work something special, that probably wouldn’t get done otherwise? If so, you’re taking on a minimum wage employee worker.

Or are you taking on a volunteer who’ll be learning on a short placement, and who will be mentored and have structured learning feedback? If so, you’re taking on a volunteer on a learning experience.

An intern can be either – there’s no right or wrong answer.

One thing you should consider though is that workers have employment rights, while volunteers don’t. I would always encourage companies to pay their interns (even if it’s just the minimum wage) rather than take them on as volunteers.

Employees (1) need a fixed term employment contract and must be paid the minimum wage. It’s a criminal offence for employers not to pay someone the National Minimum Wage or to falsify payment records.

Volunteers (2) need a volunteering agreement and are paid expenses for travel and subsistence (e.g. lunch). If you are going to just offer someone expenses as a volunteer you need to be aware that you will not be protected as you would with an employment agreement when it comes to intellectual property.

Useful resources

 Hiring the best interns can be difficult for early stage startups.

Bigger companies with longer hiring roadmaps often snatch up the best students in the autumn for internships the following summer. Facebook, Google and Twitter all have dedicated teams put to work in ring-fencing some of the brightest graduates.

However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t compete against them. If you can plan that far out, autumn is the best time to focus on hiring your interns for the following summer. If not, it’s best to focus on partnering with universities that allow students to take co-ops/internships throughout the calendar year. Consider approaching your own alma mater, meet up with your previous professors and ask them to suggest students who they feel would benefit from working with you.

Tips for finding and managing your intern:

  • Find interns via university career fairs, relationships with relevant student groups, alumni networks and partnerships with offices or careers services.
  • When hosting tech talks and events, always invite a handful of computer science students from great local universities. Search for student societies and students who will graduate in the future from particular courses on LinkedIn.
  • Keep a high bar for interns, too. While some mentorship will be expected, you can’t afford to hire someone who’s incapable of meaningful contributions.
  • Give interns real work! They will feel good about what they’ve built, learn a lot and provide real value to the team.
  • Providing a challenging and fun internship is in your best interests; you want your intern to evangelise your company at university, and encourage their friends to apply.
  • If you’ve found an incredible intern and you know you want to hire them full-time after graduation, move quickly to gauge their interest and beat the competition.