9 Intern Hiring Tips for Startups

Shortcake, party of 2.”

Wahoo. My startup successfully onboarded its first new employee last week – our part-time marketing intern Francesca (aka Frankie).

I had hired and supervised employees and interns in my previous career, but doing it for my own company was a new experience. I was nervous and asked for lots of advice throughout the process.

I really should go see this…

Here are some tips for any other first-time entrepreneurs out there based on my experience:

1) Figure out what you need help with (that makes sense for an intern).
I know, you need help with everything right? But an intern’s role and responsibilities should be well-defined if you want the experience to be successful for both of you. The job you give them should be one that you can do yourself and can train them on, not something you don’t know how to do. It also helps if the associated tasks can fit within blocks of time during the week, versus something that needs on-call attention.

For me and Shortcake, that role is marketing and customer acquisition. The business is at the point where we will be ready to increase sales within the next month. So we should start now laying the groundwork to attract those customers. I have experience in marketing and social media and can train someone to take over this role for me. It’s also a job that can be done within a part-time schedule.

2) Do you need to pay your intern? (Probably.)
I did some research into whether or not I needed to pay my intern, and because the role would be contributing to the company’s revenue more than learning basic skills, I decided the role should be paid. Read more here: >>Should You Pay Your Interns? (Forbes)

3) Look at your budget and figure out what you can afford. 
For Shortcake, we are not earning revenue yet, so money spent on an intern has to be spent wisely and prudently. I decided to look for a part-time intern to help take an important yet outsource-able task off my plate. I offered $10/hour for 10-15 hours per week. (Tip – Engineering roles command higher salaries so keep that in mind depending on what you’re looking for.)

Louise was a pretty great intern.

4) Write a good job description.
You want the position to sound exciting because it IS exciting to work at a new and growing company. But don’t over-exaggerate or use inflated terms (Marketing Ninja Wanted! We’re crushing it!). Clearly explain the expectations for the role, and note some of the advantages for working at a startup, as well as any press/honors/events that add legitimacy to the business. I also offered a “benefit” to my intern of paying for them to come to a few tech meetup events with me as a way of introducing them to the local startup community.

I found some good tips for writing a startup intern job description here and here. I thought it was most helpful to look at real examples though, so I’ve also posted the actual job description I wrote for this internship position here. (You’re welcome.)

Helpful tip: Include a random question in your job description for candidates to answer. Nothing hard, just something they have to think about for a minute. This is an easy test for any applicant to see if they pay attention to details and really care about applying to your company. For example, for this job posting, towards the bottom I wrote to include an answer to the following question in their application “Who do you think is the greatest New Jerseyan, and why?” (we are a Jersey-proud company). Probably 90% of the applications I received didn’t answer this question and were immediately weeded out from consideration. Made my job of reviewing applicants much faster.

5) Post the description in several places online.
You need to post a few places because you never know what will end up working out. Indeed.com, Craigslist, and local college job boards were recommended to me. I posted this position on Indeed, 3 local colleges, and Internships.com. I got the best (and the most) candidates via Indeed. Try a few sites and see what works for you.

Worked out pretty well for these guys.

6) Have a 2-step interview process.
First, I held phone/Skype interviews with three applicants to further describe the position and learn about their interests and experience. As a next step, I gave them a small sample project to complete to show their skills and commitment to the opportunity. Since part of this marketing position will be researching and composing blog content, I asked them to write a short blog post that would be relevant to our customer base. The results really helped me make a decision on who to offer the position to.

7) Make the offer and follow-up via mail. (Yes, real actual mail.)
Make your offer quickly after you’ve made your decision, preferably via phone. Once you have a verbal commitment, follow-up via mail with an official packet of information on company letterhead including:

— a) Two copies of the offer letter (1 for them to sign and return, 1 to keep)
— b) A copy of the position description
— c) Confidentiality and Intellectual Property Assignment Agreement for them to sign and return (get that done and out of the way now). I used this agreement template from UpCounsel.

8) Prepare for their first day.
Workspace – Where will your intern be working? Shortcake doesn’t have office space yet (again, no revenue), so Frankie is joining me in our home office. To make things feel official I cleaned up our desk to be her designated work space. I got our old laptop out and deleted a bunch of programs to make it run faster, put out some office supplies, and bought a new printer. Voila! Instant office. I also asked her what kind of coffee she likes so I can stock some in the kitchen.

Management – Have an onboarding session the first day. Talk about roles, responsibilities, and expectations for both of you. Make sure they understand the company’s goal and mission and how the work they will do fits in to helping reach those goals. Prepare a few initial projects for them to work on with clear instructions. For Frankie, I asked her to get familiar with all our social media profiles and start researching and reading through a list of relevant blogs for our customer base while making notes of possible topics we could write about.

Set up a company email account for them ahead of time and start forwarding a few relevant resources they can read on their first day. And take them out to lunch or coffee if you can. DD was napping at lunchtime so I took Frankie out for coffee while our babysitter was still here in the morning. It was nice.

Payroll – Figure out what payroll system you’ll use. I researched a few and went with ZenPayroll/Gusto because the interface looked simple for a first-timer like me, they do NJ state taxes, and as a WeWork member I get the first 3 months free. But there are more options out there. See what works for you.

9) Maintain and Prepare
Schedule a 5-minute meeting with your intern at the start of each day to go over their projects and any questions they have. Then let them get to work and come to you with questions as needed. See what they can do and enjoy knowing those projects are getting accomplished while you are working on another task. Yippee.

Don’t forget to prepare for the next intern. Make sure you post your positions online at least one month before you need someone to start.

Now go get to it! It’s time to double your workforce…to two. :)

Startup Mom is written by Coralee Dixon, a NJ mom and founder of Shortcake. Is she “having it all” or losing her mind? Follow along as we find out…(I’m just as curious as you are.)