At a time when VCs are thinking twice before investing and when you need to scale up on your own before turning profitable or raising a round of investments, hiring interns is a tried and tested way to scale.
I started Internshala as a hobby project and as a WordPress blog in 2010. For the initial two years, I was the only full-time employee. I was operating out of a study room in my home in Gurgaon and had a team of virtual interns (hired through the blog) helping me with different aspects of the business. Gradually, as the business grew, I built a team of short duration, in-office interns, and later to minimum six-month in-office interns. Many of interns converted their internships to full-time roles. Today, over 60 percent of our permanent team members started as interns first.
Building a team with the help of interns helped me in two ways: a) it kept the hiring costs low and b) it did wonders for our work culture. Especially in today’s startup scenario, where VCs are thinking twice before investing and when you need to scale up on your own before turning profitable or raising a round of investments, hiring interns is a tried and tested way to scale. We did face initials hurdles and hiccups in hiring interns but learnt from it, and later on, it became our default hiring strategy. After hiring over 100 interns, I learned three essential lessons that I would like to share -
- Understand what stage your business is in– This would help you find an answer to whether you should hire virtual interns or full-time interns. For an initial couple of years when the team size is small (<20 people) and you have more bandwidth to manage people remotely, virtual interns are perfect. But as the business grows, hiring in-office interns would be a better option.
Virtual interns vs in-office interns: whom to hire?
Virtual interns offer lot of flexibility - you don't have to worry about office space (or even internet expense); they are relatively inexpensive (compared to full time interns), give you access to a wider talent pool (say someone in a different city), and can be easily hired for tasks like content, design, lead generation, managing your social media presence, or even programming. However, you need to understand their schedule (as many of them would be doing the internship along with college studies) and be prepared to make that extra effort to mentor someone remotely. Tools like Skype, Google Drive and Docs, Hangout, Facebook group for the team come handy to streamline workflow and information flow.
However, as the team and business grow, you will start feeling the need for interns who can be available with you, in-office and full time, to take care of various projects and whom you can guide face to face as per your schedule (rather than working your schedule around a virtual intern).
In-office interns are also easier to mould into your culture, and the bonding is stronger.
This does not mean you should stop hiring virtual interns altogether - depending on the projects (and availability of an in-house team member to lead them), you will continue to hire a few virtual interns every now and then.
- Invest your time in hiring – Look for three factors while hiring your interns: an example of hard work, a genuine excitement to work with your organisation, and humility and openness. Interns are your first team before the first team and will have a significant impact on how your idea grows. You should do as much due diligence in hiring an intern as you would do for a full-time member – especially if you expect the intern to convert into an employee later on. An intern who can connect with your organisation’s vision can contribute in hundred different ways. Look for not just technical skills but also focus on cultural fit and attitude also.
- Mentor your interns well –In a recent survey, we found out that interns value ‘learning’ more than other factors like brand, or even stipend. For an intern, the biggest takeaway from an internship is learning, which is possible only if she is attached to a manager who enjoys mentoring and teaching. If you invest time in mentoring her well, she would turn into an asset for your organisation and also a brand evangelist for you among her friends and peers.
How to start mentoring interns?
The first week of the internship is crucial, and proper communication is imperative. Spend time to set up the ground rules with the intern (some of them may not really know behaviours that we take for granted among professionals), explain to them about the work in detail and your expectations from them, understand their expectations from the internship and get them excited about your vision. Assign your intern a 'buddy' (who could be another intern) to help her understand not just the work and culture, but also to gel with the team easily. Interns learn quickly and can do wonders for you.
The internship culture in India is still evolving. An internship is the first professional experience for a student and there may be instances when your intern might be casual or even abscond (without informing you) from work.
So be prepared for the initial heartbreaks but make sure that you keep some buffer and build a talent pipeline for the role. But if you invest enough time in hiring the right intern, you would be able to build your dream team.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)