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Internships in Indian startups – A reflection

30 million+ prospective interns. Why is it still hard to get someone we can groom and be proud of? On the other hand, are interns really satisfied with their 10 week stint? Or could they have done better?

Internships in Indian startups – A reflection

Friday August 11, 2017,

6 min Read


This post is based on the 3 times I have been an intern, 11 interns that I worked with in my previous job and countless internship applications I processed for my startup.

As someone who browses through resumes on a daily basis, this may seem too familiar a sight:



As a founder, as a CEO, or as a recruiter, our priority is always to find the best people to work with.

Ever wondered – that even though the number of college going students increases exponentially every year, why is it still a Herculean task to find the right interns?

This post is an open letter to interns, prospective interns, and startups hiring them. With a new college year starting this month, I hope this reaches its target audience.

Before the Internship:

It is extremely heartwarming to see young college freshers looking to intern along with their studies. And there are many companies looking to welcome fresh blood into their fold. And the wonderful world of internet has made it so much simpler to connect!

It is so heart wrenching to see the utter uselessness of the way they approach this practice.

For Students:

Please take out a few minutes to curate your application according to the company you are applying to. I know it’s tempting to mass mail a generic CV-and-cover letter to every HR in the world. However, it’s a big turn off for the people on the other side of the table – Us.

And yes, a well drafted cover letter will give you a jump straight to the front of the line. Likewise, a misspelt company name would land your resume in the trash bin. That is if you are lucky.

I’d personally write a terse email back.

For Startups:

Post exactly (or as much as possible) about what you want. Vague Facebook posts like “content writer interns needed’ is not the most appropriate way. To prospective interns, it shows how unclear you are in knowing your own requirements.

Much worse is (and sadly, I come across this on a regular basis) BS like “Rockstars Needed for XYZ Department”.

These are college students, who have outstanding debts at their college canteen. They are just learning to manage money independently for the very first time.

Someone who has to eat Maggi on credit is not a Rockstar. They, however, may have the potential to be one. 

And we can make them, if we connect with the right ones. 

So ensure that job description is accurate so that you can find your potential Rockstar much earlier.

During the Internship:

For Students:

Treat your internship and your time at the office as a privilege. I seriously don’t know why you guys suddenly wake up at 5 PM saying you’ll send rest of the work from home.

Plans, you say? To avoid traffic rush, you say?

Please remember that you’re an intern. You need to slog because you are meant to learn. You have to work so damn hard that everything you learn at this internship gets you the best damn placement in your college.

Isn’t that why you joined the internship in the first place? If no, then scroll down straight to read my final message.

For those who are willing to work hard, here are a few tips on how to extract maximum benefit from your internship:

• Respect your manager. He/she has the biggest role to play in your learning. Doesn’t mean the rest of the people in the office can’t play an equally important role, but the manager is who you should stick like glue to.

• Respect the person who leaves last from the office. And if that isn’t usually the CEO/Co-founder, you are probably interning at the wrong startup, FYI.

• Another important thing, and what you guys generally skip on, is keeping BOTH your eyes and ears open. Stop plugging in to music at work to zone out conversations that don’t interest you.

Keeping your ears open will make you privy to the conversations around you. 

However, if the conversations around you are about personal Instagram stories and not the company/product, you might want to rework your networking plans, or even rethink if you’re at the right company.

• Listen to all small (and big) talk. Trust me, if you know how to use information, it will help you massively. Even after the internship.

For Startups:

Please give your interns concrete work to do. The usual mindset is that interns are hired labor for tasks that their direct managers don’t feel like doing – which might range from making coffee to writing customer reply emails.

I urge you to give them actual work, that transforms from their actions to quantifiable metrics. Introduce prompt feedback – works both ways. Make them feel proud of themselves and of the journey they had with your company.

Be a colleague they can learn from, not their boss.

After the Internship:

For Students:

Okay, this is a small suggestion. But very impactful.


Networking is the name of the game today. That Letter of Recommendation, that Internship Certificate isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

Your phone book, your Rolodex can be the difference between “a bright professional future” and "filling forms on Naukri and Monster Jobs” (Does that still exist?).

Unsure about what to write in a follow up email? Think about the person you are writing to, and the conversations you’ve had with them during the internship. You’ll find the words.

Especially keep in touch with the co-founders. Keep track of their startup, their milestones, their product launches, and send a short congratulatory email once in a while. They face so much rejection on a daily basis, your email will be highly noticeable.

For Startups:

Give your interns a token of acknowledgement - certificate of appreciation, letter of recommendation, stipend, bonus, anything. These are college students who want to learn something that can add value to their overall personality.

And for the last time, “EXPERIENCE” is not an acceptable currency. Have a heart. We were there too, once. Remember? 😊

My Last Message to the Interns:

Dear college students, you have got to start treating internships with professionalism and respect.

An internship is much more than a way to earn money for your summer vacations parties. And worse, it’s not a mere line to add in the Work Ex section of your resume, the one that you plan to send to B-Schools or MNCs after graduation.

Treat your internship as two months to learn all that 3-4 years of college education will not can not teach you. 

2 months. 60 days. 45 working days - of getting paid to learn. That’s a privilege only a few of the 30 million college graduates in this country get. Give it the respect it warrants.

Grab the Opportunity with both hands. And Legs. Most Importantly - Milk the opportunity for what it’s worth. And then some. Nobody is going to come to your desk and offer you a pot of gold or wisdom.

Because the world, my friend, owes you nothing.

All the best for your next internships! If you want to learn and grow with us, you can write to [email protected]. Or reach me directly at [email protected]


Akshit Kumar