How to Build a Startup Internship Program: Getting Started

From cost savings to eagerness to take on new projects, interns can offer substantial value to your company. But finding qualified interns takes more than simply hitting submit on a job board. In this new series, OpenView Senior Talent Specialist Meghan Maher shares her best practices for building a successful internship program.

If developed and managed correctly, internship programs can add substantial value to your company. In this series on internship programs, I will provide advice on the best practices on implementing an internship program and managing interns.

3 Ways Interns Benefit Your Company

Jumping for joy
1. Cost savings: Interns (if developed properly) can and should take on projects that would typically be completed by a full-time employee. This allows you to keep your full-time headcount down while generating the same output and efficiency.
2. Interns are malleable and eager to learn: Most interns will be happy to take on any project you throw at them. They are there for the experience and enthusiastically take on projects that full-time employees may not be as excited about.
3. It feels good: Most companies have aspirations to help out the community; hiring interns and helping them with their career is part of that. These interns will go on to use the experiences you gave them in their schoolwork as well as their careers, making an impact in their community.

Getting Started: What You Need

An owner: An internship program will not be successful unless there is an owner. Someone to build and manage the program, ensure interns are on boarded and off boarded properly, and field any questions from the team. This will ensure consistency and fluidity.
Meaningful work: Interns should not simply be coffee-runners. In order to get the ROI you are looking for, they should be taking on real projects and making an impact. Ensuring you have enough work to keep them busy is an important step in building a program.
Intern mentors: Interns can only be successful if they have dedicated mentors to guild them through the process. These mentors should not be babysitters, they should be a guiding presence, assigning tasks and checking in on their progress on an ongoing basis.

Teams That Benefit Most from Interns

Teams working on ideas
Every team can benefit from interns, but here are some examples:

  • Engineering: CS students are hungry for experience and strong engineers are few and far between. Hiring engineering interns can be a great way to ship product quicker.
  • Marketing: Interns are a great resource for social media management as well as content editing and uploading. This is also a hot area of interest for Business students right now.
  • Sales: Interns can conduct research around contacts within companies to assist in generating leads for the sales teams.
  • Finance: Interns can typically help with expense reimbursement and AP/AR activities as well as making sure all reporting is up to date.

Implementing A Formal Request Process

Gathering requests from the team may seem simple and most companies will want to take requests on an ad hoc basis. However, without a formal process in place for intern requests, the program owner could be fielding requests weekly with no rhythm in place. This can become very time-consuming and confusing for the team.
Putting a formal request process in place will help streamline the process. It will also ensure all teams are on the same rhythm and you have classes of interns coming in together.
Your request process should include:

Dates and deadlines

When building a program, determine when you are going to kick off each cycle. Once you have that determined, send out the request form and put a deadline on it. You can collect all the requests and get started on the intern searches together. Here are some suggested timelines (depending on geographic area and discipline you are looking for, these will change):

  • Summer Interns: Begin the cycle and send forms with a deadline in February. Begin the searches no later than the beginning of March with the hopes of having all hires made in April. Summer interns will start at the end of May.
  • Fall Interns: Begin the cycle and send forms with a deadline in June. Begin the searches no later than the beginning of July with the hopes of having all hires made in August. Fall interns will start at the beginning of September.
  • Spring Interns: Begin the cycle and send forms with a deadline in October. Begin the searches no later than the beginning of November with the hopes of having all hires made in December. Spring interns will start at the end of January.

As the program progresses, you will find the dates that works best for your cycle.

Comprehensive, yet quick form

The form you have employees fill out should give you all the information you need without them taking long to fill out. To make it easier, consider using a Google form (or something similar) to take the email submission out of it. The form should cover:

  • Contact for the search — this should be the person that will be screening, hiring and mentoring the intern
  • Title for the intern position
  • Primary responsibility
  • Desired qualifications
  • Whether the intern will be full-time or part-time (full time is more likely in the summer)
  • Minimum hours and any required hours/days they should be working

Download Your Intern Request Form Template Here

intern request form
Once you have the completed forms, you will use the information to build the job descriptions for your intern openings.

The Next Steps

Stay tuned for my next post on creating and posting job descriptions and hiring timeline and process, including templates your own company can use!
Read the other posts in the “How to Build a Startup Internship” series

Image courtesy of Pedro Moura Pinheiro

Meghan Maher
Meghan Maher
Senior Talent Manager, Engineering

Meghan Maher is Senior Talent Manager, Engineering, actively recruiting top talent for OpenView and its Portfolio Companies. Her tech background has helped OpenView hire for nearly 20 IT and engineering positions. Meghan began her career at AVID Technical Resources, where she was a Technical Recruiter for two years.
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