Attracting Top Interns 101: How B2B SaaS Startups Can Win the Hearts of College Undergrads

An internship program is a great opportunity for your startup on multiple fronts: you get great talent at relatively low cost and risk, you get your name into college communities, and if it goes well you have an ambassador to your company to attract future talent. That being said, it can often be an arduous process to recruit good interns.

The biggest challenge I see is how to overcome the hurdle of brand validation that all college students crave in their misguided search for society’s approval. This is particularly relevant to B2B SaaS startups that don’t get the same limelight as consumer companies that are front and center in our everyday lives. Without further ado, here are a few points from a student’s perspective on the best way to attract college talent (hint: none of them advocate you become a unicorn to attract top talent).

Sell Them Your Vision

Although we college kids like to think of ourselves as independent adults, we really are still kids who can be relatively easily manipulated. Our dreams and aspirations can be altered by as little as one inspiring conversation, and most of the time, these ‘dreams’ have been reverse engineered to fit your job description anyway. If you let students in on your story and not just the typical internship pitch, they’ll have a better understanding of why you’re really doing what you’re doing. As a result, you’ll be much more likely to inspire students and motivate them to accept and perform in an internship.

Enlighten Them on the Challenges & Intricacies of SaaS

Believe it or not, B2B SaaS is pretty cool. Whether you’re honing your customer segment focus, navigating buyer personas, or figuring out how to leverage power users to guide product, B2B SaaS is an awesome game of chess compared to relatively straightforward B2C businesses. But, most college students don’t know what either B2B or SaaS is. There are a lot of university students trying to force the stereotypical charismatic B2C persona when they’re actually systematic, quantitatively driven individuals – the perfect mindset for B2B SaaS. If you can enlighten students on the unique nature of B2B SaaS challenges, you’ll be surprised at how strongly it resonates.

Hit the Main Recruiting Channels: University Career Sites & Fairs

Mainstream recruiting channels offer many advantages beyond just great exposure. Firstly, particularly if you’re targeting underclassmen, these channels typically make it easy to filter according to eligibility, which means your posts will be significantly more targeted. Secondly, postings on these channels are a reassuring indicator to students that you’re a ‘good’ company – a bit like seeing a startup written about in TechCrunch – which can go a long way for students who don’t really know the B2B SaaS space.

Create Partnerships with Student Groups

Working with student groups is a great way to break the superficial brand hurdle and expose students to the ‘cool’ facets of your business. It’s incredibly difficult and tedious for student groups to build company partnerships and so they’ll work extra hard to maintain the relationship. In the process you’ll learn about students’ potential and hopefully build a long-term channel for recruiting initiatives.

Ultimately, if you hit the right buttons in a truly methodical, B2B-like fashion, you’ll have much greater success in recruiting interns. Although many startups rely on their brand for recruiting, if you focus on the things that matter you’ll be able to attract talent that is most in line with your company’s vision. In doing so, you not only increase the quality of your current talent, but also propagate a high quality network effect that will be invaluable down the line.

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Michael Limandibhratha
Michael Limandibhratha
Business Analyst

Michael is a Business Analyst at Lift Ventures, where he conducts data analysis to provide strategic insights for product development and operational projects. Previously, he was an intern on OpenView's Market Insight team.
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