Interns are awesome. Free and low cost help is great. We love it. Businesses yearn for it. Startups want more of it to reach our business goals. Interns are eager to learn and be at the ground point of something awesome to add to their resume but are interns learning? Do startups value the lessons learned and willingly teach in the process or are internships quick ways to get work down beneath employment law?
There are extremes on either side of this notion and it suggests an ethics dilemma most startups deal with: To capitalize on free/low cost labor or to not capitalize on free/low cost labor. The benefit of an intern to a startup is that the student is typically willing to do more for the industry experience and they are used to working for little to no money. While that is a great opportunity for willing growth, startups need to make sure they are cognizant of their role in the internship.
Interns aren’t just there to do the grunt work and get coffee for a glimpse at some famous investor that might drop by the office. They are there for instruction and on the job training that lead them down the path of actual job experience. Interns benefit from internship in that they get a day in the life adventure based on their major. A marketing student may learn the ins and outs of search engine optimization or how to run drip campaigns. A biology major may be verifying the specs to 3D print body casts for broken bones. There is a wealth of knowledge they can use in their fields and it’s the job of the startup to TEACH.
During learning, interns should be trusted to do certain tasks. That doesn’t mean they should be given entire departments to manage. At that point, the startup is turning an intern into an employee without all the benefits of being an employee. We all know startups are shorthanded and it’s easy to pass tasks along but you breach the trust of the intern by giving them work that doesn’t align with their education goals. A business administration intern isn’t a reception. A sociology intern is not a lunch courier. Their time in your business is a working classroom. Treat it as such.
Growth of Interns
At some point, an intern may become vital to the progression of the startup. What’s the next step? Hire them! Contractor, employee, whichever works but make it work. Make the intern know they are worth something to you other than just a grunt worker. Interns are a great starting point for the right candidate. Treat them right. Give them a vision and a path to growth with your company. You’ll look back in 20 years and reminisce on the good old days.