The pros and cons of hiring interns in your startup

By Roy Ang

These days, it is inevitable for startups to hire interns at the initial stages of their company’s advancement — especially if they are bootstrapping. While this may initially appear to be a good practice, especially with a startups’ tight financial constraints, the grind of managing the interns could outweigh the benefits of having them in your team. These are my experiences working with interns for the past 3 years, both at e27 and currently at Bow and Tiara.

Why hiring interns make sense

1. Future talent leads for the company

If you follow Rockefeller Habits 2.0’s management philosophy, having a constant stream of high-impact talents are one of the most important factors to successfully scale your company. Talent is a crucial asset and is often the key to making or breaking your company.

Internships might be the best evaluative tool you have to sieve out great talents. You can fake an impression during interviews, but you can’t fake an execution. Internships provide an opportunity for you to gather the cream of the crop and hire the best and most suitable people for your company.

2. Extra pair of hands for execution

Having additional hands for simpler, streamlined tasks like social media pushes, customer support, cold calling or content marketing lightens the workload you have, and thus frees up more time for you to strategize the company’s next move.

At Bow and Tiara, we had abundant help from our interns in terms of social media management, product design, onboarding wedding professionals and content marketing. This sped up our search for a product-market fit and served as a great learning opportunity for the interns as well.

3. Test out new ideas and roles in the company

During the earlier stages of a company’s development, you may not be entirely certain of the type of talents your company needs, and the nature of their job scopes. This means that premature full-time hires could lead to high turnover rate (due to either cash running out or restructuring) which will hurt your company culture and thus affect business operations.

Hiring an intern to test new roles and products helps to validate roles which are necessary to scale. More importantly, don’t underestimate the abilities of interns! Interns are extremely capable of generating great ideas and feedback that help founders to refine their hypotheses and avoid fatal missteps.

The caveats

1. Affected morale at the end of an internship

Teams are always excited when there is a new kid in town and it is refreshing when you have interns who fit your company culture.

However, your morale might take a hit when your rockstar interns go back to school. This may be further perpetuated when you have a disproportionate amount of full-time staff to interns (for example 2 full time to 4 interns), and you will feel like the entire company just laid off half of the team.

2. You spend more time teaching them how to work and what to work on

If interns are given roles or tasks that are more complex, it could be counterproductive to get an intern to do it as you will spend more time teaching and guiding them on how to do it when you are better off doing it yourself.

However, I’m not suggesting to just throw mundane work to interns and leave them with negligible takeaways from their experience with your company. Instead, it is advisable for you to spare some time thinking and planning out suitable work for them, and delegating the extremely complex work to full-time staff. As time is money for startups, it is important to organise the task delegation appropriately.

3. Six-month teaching cycle

Unless you automate the teaching process by listing down the SOP instructions and recording it on video, chances are, most startup founders will take the interns under their wing and teach them what you know. As an internship cycle usually repeats itself every 3/6 months, it can be quite taxing.

4. Disrupt business operations

When your interns take on too many responsibilities and are the ones contacting your customers/clients, communications between your company and external parties could be disrupted if the handover is not done properly. This could result in losing businesses.

Originally titled “The pros and cons of hiring interns in your startup“, this article originally appeared on e27.


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