When founders think of building their organization, they typically focus first on their co-founders. After filling out their C-Suite ranks, they start to think about early employees, filling out their talent pipeline with people from their network and referrals from trusted colleagues and friends.
In this scramble for the best talent, founders tend to overlook an untapped labor pool: Interns.
While internship programs are usually associated with much larger enterprises, they can be effective for startups as well. A well-crafted internship program can create impact exponentially greater than the resources needed to develop it.
If you think of the opportunities surrounding interns and startups as circles in a Venn diagram, the overlap is significant. Startups, on one hand, need talent who can take on a range of functions across the organization as it grows faster than they can hire. Interns, meanwhile, are eager to learn as many skills as they can in order to better position themselves for the job market they’re planning to break into.
These interns, in other words, want to experience a trial by fire. And what better cauldron is there than the early stage startup?
But amplifying your efforts with interns isn’t as simple as opening your doors to a bunch of undergrads-turned-coffee couriers. Creating an effective internship program begins with an attitude change. If you view interns as low level labor, you will get low level labor. The interns will not be able to think above the photocopying or coffee-fetching you assign them to do.
But if you recognize interns as potentially significant contributors – who just happen to be college students or recent graduates – you stand to gain an incredible talent base, one whose very advantage is their inexperience.
Because interns are not yet indoctrinated into working culture, they have a dramatically different perspective than their more experienced counterparts. Once you empower them to speak up, they can bring great ideas to the table. Comparing interns to McKinsey-style consultants would not be a stretch: They can both cut into key problems facing the organization from their unbiased, outside-looking-in view.
In my experience at Ambidextr, for example, our interns have initiated significant improvements to processes, devised original marketing campaigns for both our company and our clients, and even surfaced insights from our data that others did not see. Our interns, in short, were valuable contributors – they made a far greater impact at Ambidextr than their humble titles would suggest. I think all founders can likewise leverage interns in an impactful way for their respective startups.