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.)

Founders don’t take vacations. But I just did. (Shhh. Don’t tell any VCs.)

Nothing says 'vacation' like champagne before noon. (Feeling glamorous at Domaine Carneros winery.)
Nothing says ‘vacation’ like champagne before noon. (Feeling glamorous at Domaine Carneros winery.)

When I was still enrolled in the Founder Institute earlier this summer, at some point my peers started talking about how they were going to take vacations or time off after graduation. We had earned it and were burnt out, right?

But at the same time one of the lessons being imparted to us was that “Founders don’t get to go on vacation.” Look, we get it. If you are running your own business you’re never really not on call. Whether you’re a small time freelancer or powerful CEO, there are occasions when you need to be available even if you’re taking time away.

Meanwhile, DH and I hadn’t been on vacation (sans baby) since our honeymoon 2 1/2 years ago. And we were both coming off some very busy work schedules. It was time. A few months back we had decided that we would go somewhere (anywhere!) in September. We lined up my parents to host DD for a few days and put off planning where we’d actually go til closer to the date.

So when FI ended in July, I kept going. I was jealous of those who took a break, but at the same time I knew that (a) I’d get my turn and (b) it was a good thing for me to press on after FI to find my new working rhythm without the imposed structure of their curriculum. If I had taken a break right away, it may have been really difficult to try to start over again after coming back without having an established routine. Overall, I think the company and I were better for having done it this way.

So with some last minute help from a travel agent, DH and I just got back from 4 nights in Napa Valley, CA. The weather was beautiful, the views were lovely, the wine was delicious, and so was the food. And I had an awesome massage at our hotel to boot. Plus DH and I got to reconnect as a couple without the responsibilities of managing our home or being Mommy & Daddy. It was really nice. We needed a break and getaway as individuals and a couple. And I think we’re returning to our work and our home all the better for having done it.

Cozying by the fire in our hotel room. That's real fire we lit ourselves with hotel-provided matches. Pretty sweet.
Cozying by the fire in our hotel room. That’s a real fire we lit ourselves with hotel-provided matches. Pretty sweet.

But don’t be fooled. I still did work. Just not much of it. I spent about two hours working on the flight out and then did some sporadic email checking, scheduled a few calls for the following week, and things like that. Shortcake’s social media channels were quiet, which is something I could have planned for but didn’t. That’s on me and I’ll try to do better.

Now to start making some local dinner plans so we can enjoy our souvenirs. :)

We may have overdone it. But they were all so good! Now we just don't have to buy any wine for the next year+.
We may have overdone it. But they were all so good! Now we just don’t have to buy any more wine for the next year+.

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.)

It’s a new day (Thoughts on hiring a babysitter for the first time)

I mean, if Elmo has a sitter why shouldn’t DD?

After almost 18 months, someone not related to us is watching DD while I sit here typing this. Oh joy of joys. What took me so long?

Part of this whole #mompreneur thing is that we’re women who want to raise our children and want to have fulfilling careers, right? So we are trying to make it work by being mommy during the day and being our own boss during nap/bedtime.

And I’ve been doing that since DD was born. Because I wasn’t ready to have someone that wasn’t a parent/grandparent be in charge of her care.

But not anymore. It’s the dawn of a new day. I used care.com [no ad, that’s just what I actually used] to find a local college student who is in my living room right now playing with DD. I can hear them laughing. My daughter is laughing and playing in the living room under proper supervision while I work. Oh day of days! :)

But #nojudgement either way from this mommy. I get it. Every mom has to come to these decisions in her own time. I was not ready 3 months ago. Today I am ready. And it is a beautiful thing.

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.)

Advice from Gary Vaynerchuk

Last night I attended my first NJ Tech meetup in Hoboken. It was pretty great – I’m so glad I went! Did some good networking, heard some pitches, learned about some resources…but the best part by far was the “fireside chat” with Gary Vaynerchuk.

That's me in the blue/pink dress! :) Chatting with my friend James from PocketSomm.
That’s me in the pink/blue dress! :) Eating free pizza and chatting with my friend James from PocketSomm.

I’d read The Thank You Economy a few years ago and appreciated Gary’s simple prose and the easy way he saw and described the potential in new technologies. I knew he’d probably be a good speaker from the way he wrote, but have come to realize that this is something he really shines in (and he knows it). I would go out of my way to see him speak in person again.

Gary (on the left) speaking with Aaron from NJTech.
Gary (on the left) speaking with Aaron from NJTech. He talks with his hands. Big time. I can relate to that.

A lot of what he said was inspiring and also gut-checking for any new entrepreneur. He was asked if he thought we’re in another tech bubble, and he replied no. But he thinks we’re in an entrepreneur bubble because it’s so easy for anyone to say they’re an entrepreneur without having really done anything. It’s also easy for some entrepreneurs to get investment funding because there are lots of small investors who want to get in on the startup scene because it’s trendy, and they have the fear of missing out.

That made a lot of sense to me. But it also, of course, made me wonder about my own goals, accomplishments, and ambition. Do I have the drive to make it in this startup world? Gary talked about how much it bothers him that new entrepreneurs complain that they don’t have enough time to get things done. He said if he audited those people’s time, he guaranteed he’d find another four hours each day they were wasting. Sleeping, watching tv, playing mobile games…if you want to succeed you are working all. the. time. Putting in the work matters.

Honestly, in our current culture and economy in the U.S., we have it easy. These are not difficult times that we live in. But sometimes it seems when times are easiest is when people complain the most. Have you ever noticed that? People don’t complain much when they are really going through serious difficulties.

But I know I am one of these people. I’m a complainer. Ugh. Or at least I have been to those closest to me who I feel free to vent to (and to myself because I am my own captive audience). So one of my key takeaways from Gary’s comments is to think about the bigger picture more, adjust my perspective, and complain less. I don’t think it’s going to be easy. When people ask me “So how’s the new business going?”, I’m going to need to retool my responses to be less complainy and more grateful. I don’t need to fake that this isn’t a hard thing I’m doing, but I can change the way I think about it all.

I left the event with some great advice and a new spark to do and achieve. Thanks Gary.

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.)

Mentor Progress Review – Completed!

At FI, we had our second round of mentor reviews last Wednesday. I was working all week to improve my PowerPoint and finish the week’s assignment, then spent the last day memorizing my updated pitch.

DH & DD left for Florida vacation time on Wednesday morning with my in-laws (pre-planned trip we all received as a Christmas gift), so I finished getting them ready to go on Tuesday night, knowing I would have all day Wednesday to myself to finish everything I needed to do for the session that night plus pack for myself.  (I had changed my flight to Thursday morning so as not to miss the big presentation session.) But it turned out I needed all the time I had to prep for the presentation. So I figured I would get it done and then leave right after the session to head home early for packing and prepping for my own flight on Thursday morning. I got the work done and headed in to the city for the session.

I was nervous about how my presentation would be received, but was confident that I would present the material that I had well. Our larger group was split into four smaller groups in conference rooms, with the mentors in groups of two rotating through the rooms. We each gave our pitches a total of 3 times to 6 total mentors. Some of the feedback was tough, but all of it was helpful. I was proud of myself and my groupmates – we had worked hard and came away with a lot of great insights for our businesses.

Overall, I feel good about my performance. I continue to receive good feedback about my presentation style and natural way of speaking. But my actual PowerPoint design got dinged for not being creative/compelling enough, especially for a business concept with great design as one of its key differentiating features. (They were right, and I’m working on a better design now.)

Again, the main points the mentors were driving home for me revolved around how will my business stand out from competitors. Even if I offer a slight difference or focus, what’s to stop an established competitor from seeing my success and simply adding that feature into their existing products? I don’t want to be competing with the big guys on price, because I will most certainly lose.

They encouraged me to remain focused on my initial concept – automating the process of photo book and baby album creation. Customers sign up, and then they receive the (well-designed) product in the mail with little effort. Get that right first, then think about expanding into other options. “Simple, simple, simple”, as mentor Gabe kept telling us. Automate this time-intensive process.

In the end, I scored slightly better this time than I did in the first mentor review round, so that felt good. But the session went late, so my idea of leaving early had to be scrapped. I joined my colleagues at the bar while I waited for the next train, but I was so glad I did because I ended up having really great conversations with my friends and a few mentors. They had so much great feedback and suggestions for me on how to move forward with my business. I actually ended up staying even later so that I could keep talking with everyone.

I still was able to pack for vacation and got to bed in the wee hours. Overslept a bit, but rushed around and made my flight to FL. I was so exhausted. I knew I still had the next week’s assignment to do, but I’d be able to make some to relax with the family in FL, go to the beach, the pool, out to dinner. I really felt like I had EARNED this vacation. Woo hoo. I got to FL, picked up my rental car, and couldn’t help smiling as I caught my first glimpses of the gulf. :)

Then two hours later I received an email from FI detailing my first special assignment, due in four days.

Stitch has such range.

(To be continued…)


Startup Mom is written by Coralee Dixon, a NJ mom trying to launch an online business aimed at helping parents solve their memory-keeping needs. Is she “having it all” or losing her mind? Follow along as we find out…(I’m just as curious as you are.)

Look Mom! I have a blog! :)

Hey you! Thanks for finding my little website thingy here.

[This is my first blog. So it’s going to be pretty basic for a little while til I can get more fanci-fied. I’ll try to get some color themes or something up in here soon.]

So here’s the deal. About two months ago I got an idea for a new business. I got kind of excited about it, told some people who got excited for me, spent some time researching it, and decided to make the jump and follow the proverbial yellow brick road to see where it might take me.

I’ve been a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM for those of you not familiar with mommy acronyms) since March 2014 when Daisy was born. Worked part-time for about six months doing some consulting work, but didn’t feel really passionate about it. Waited for inspiration to strike and [cla-click] got a lightbulb above my head in late February 2015.

Joined the Founder Institute in NYC in mid-April 2015 to jumpstart the process. It’s been intense. As in, this is the most challenged I’ve been professionally and personally. Ever. Did I mention I’m (still) a SAHM? So I’m working two full-time jobs for all intents and purposes. /whine

A few days ago, one of my group members (hi Dee!) suggested the idea of creating a blog to chronicle my experience as a new mom going through the crazy startup experience. And I thought – I absolutely should do that. There is no downside, because I’ll enjoy reading this even if zero other people do, and journaling my thoughts and experiences will probably be very therapeutic. Cause there is A LOT going on in my head nowadays. Writing it down might help me straighten it out a bit. And who knows – maybe somewhere down the line someone will read this and think “I’m not crazy! This lady knows what I’m going through.” and he/she will feel validated, understood, and a bit more confident. That’s the dream anyways.

So…welcome! Let’s see where the journey takes us…

~Coralee

We’re not in Kansas anymore.