If I were to tell you that we built Internshala only with interns (we are world's largest internship platform and in top 500 websites in India), you would perhaps find it difficult to believe. But Internshala is not the only example. ConfirmTkt, one of the fastest growing tech start-ups in India with about 5 million users, had only 6 interns & 2 co-founders on their initial team. The first team of Analytics Vidhya, started in 2013, consisted of 2 interns and the founder; and these interns played a critical role in making Analytics Vidhya the number 1 Data Science community in India.
There are enough examples like these where a team of interns did wonders to a start-ups growth and success. But then there are also stories of how interns lacked the energy or maturity and the whole thing was a waste of time for a company. This got us thinking as to why some companies have great internship programs and why others don't. We reached out to them to find what it takes to run a successful internship program at a start-up. Here is what we learned -
Hire the right interns: Right hiring is the key to a successful internship program. Keep your hiring process stringent to ensure only the right candidates – candidates who are motivated to learn and do, and don’t just want to get an internship certificate – get on board.
Harshad, founder of WordsMaya says, “I employ a tough screening test to evaluate an applicant’s relevant skills, with a specific deadline. For example, I ask them to write some relevant content for a content writing role and ask them to prepare a marketing campaign for a well-known product if it’s a marketing role.”
Apart from testing candidate on willingness to work and skills, there are many other aspects which should be communicated and clarified. As an employer, you should always maintain transparency while talking about your company, founders, and the responsibilities that interns would be handling. While assessing a candidate, you should check for their availability and exam schedule, if they are comfortable relocating/commuting or if they have any other commitment (say preparing for a competition exam) which might take up a lot of their time. You go ahead only when you get a green signal for each of these items.
Teach them the requisite concepts/skills: They might have heard what social media marketing is or what SEO is, but most probably they just know the terminology, and nothing more than that. You know what they will be working on, so for initial few days spend time on a regular basis to teach pre-requisite concepts/skills. Ronak, Co-founder of Muses Marketing says, “Most of them don’t know the stuff which you expect. But don’t worry; they’ll learn it before you know it. Allow them 2 weeks to learn and grasp the work you want them to do.”
Set the clear expectations and boundaries: To avoid unnecessary discussions as why you are not on time or why this was not completed within the given timeline, set the clear expectations upfront. If you expect them to come on time or finish an assignment within the timeline, clarify to your interns on day one. Also, communicate the boundaries to your interns – if you do not expect your team to torrent or spend too much time on personal calls or on social media, make it a point to tell this to your interns. For most, this would be the first time they would be working in a professional set up and hence may just not know these basic things.
Set target and help them plan to achieve it: Once you set target for your interns, they have a sense of direction to work towards. And since (most probably) they would be making a plan for first time, you need to teach them to get specific with what outcome to expect from a particular action item, pre-requisites for the execution, timeline of the execution and the analysis of the outcome.
Give them creative freedom: Most of them have a fire in their belly to do something big, something different. So slack the string a little bit – involve them in discussions, welcome their ideas— and they might surprise you with their quirky ideas and different perspectives about things. Arjun, Co-founder of Taimill, an online grocery store, shares, “One of my business development interns wanted to reach out to PG owners. I encouraged her to try it. To our surprise, we got orders of more than Rs 10,000 on the day one!”
Take regular updates & share your feedback: Sometimes out of hesitation an intern might not come to you to ask for help or expert’s advice and get stuck. To keep the intern’s engagement smooth, it’s wise that we take regular updates – either over email or in face-to-face catch up – if they make a mistake or not do as expected, a quick constructive feedback works as magic. Also, do not forget to pat and acknowledge when they do something good – it is a great motivator (not only to interns, but for anyone.)
Pay them good stipend: It ensures a greater accountability from both the sides. Also, when you realise how productive an intern could be, you wouldn’t hesitate to pay a good stipend, which would almost always be less expensive compared to a salary of a full time employee.