Why You Need Summer Interns Now, and 3 Tips for Hiring the Best Ones

This article originally appeared in Entrepreneur. 

In 2021, there are more reasons than ever for savvy entrepreneurs and startups to tap into college and university student internships. With telecommuting, remote recruiting over Zoom, and limited, if any, career fairs, internships are the best way to assess and build a relationship with the powerful wave of talent coming out of our colleges and universities.

If you want to connect with the best talent and have the most success, is time to kick off your company’s internship initiatives. College and university students from across the country are on the hunt for summer internships. Here are three reasons summer interns are important and three tips for how to hire the best.

1. Internships connect startups to the largest talent group of the next 20 years, Gen Z

The first wave of Generation Z (those born after 1994) is in their late teens and early twenties — the ideal cohort for summer internships. They bring an abundance of creativity, in no small part, because they are the most diverse generation ever. Nearly half are racial or ethnic minorities. Internships can be a cornerstone of your company’s diversity commitment.

This generation is already an estimated 40 percent of the working and consumer population. So from today forward, Gen Z will be working for your company, buying from your company, and sharing whatever they experience across the internet. They will be the force that helps young companies like yours succeed.

2. Internships deliver instantaneous ROI

There isn’t an industry or company growing today that will be competitive in the future without the internet, cloud computing, and social media. Today’s interns — “born” with smartphones in their hands — show up ready and able to contribute to leading-edge strategies in meaningful ways.

Last year, interns at our portfolio companies completed projects that ranged from building online shopping cart features to writing software. One marketing intern defined audience personas and curated and managed social media content across five platforms to boost opens and clicks. An engineering student analyzed trends that drove product design and created lead generation protocols that re-qualified and recaptured potential customers. We see dozens of interns helping startups reduce costs and drive revenue from projects like these in days and weeks, not months and years.

3. Internships build career pathways into the startup economy

Monster.com calls Gen Z “practical and entrepreneurial,” reporting that almost half (49 percent) want to own their businesses. They are workers. According to Monster, more than 40 percent of Gen Z students have been employed. Many interns have already created their own side gigs. Internships help solidify entrepreneurial interests and dreams into entrepreneurial careers. Real-world experience in startups helps students figure out if entrepreneurship is really for them. It’s an excellent way for companies to road test the intern for future employment — an efficient and rewarding outcome for both. Additionally, many states and regions have internship initiatives that pay a significant share of intern salaries.

Our portfolio companies hired more than 70 interns over the last 18 months and are in hiring mode for 2021. Here are some of their tips on achieving A+ results for your startup and the interns you hire.
1. Interview with ingenuity

Whatever you do, interview thoroughly. Curious students make the best interns. They do not have to be from the most prestigious schools or the most technical disciplines. Look for applicants who ask lots of questions about lots of things.

Present a strong applicant with a business challenge as part of the interview. For example, “We invest in lead generation, but we don’t learn anything from the leads that don’t respond. Even if you don’t understand this issue, how would you go about tackling it?” It doesn’t matter what their suggestions are. You want to learn how an intern would tackle a project — from data gathering to talking with customers to presenting results.

2. Invest time so both the intern and the company can achieve their goals

Interns come into your company with objectives, and you have objectives, too. The foundation of the relationship is a mutual understanding of each other’s goals. Preparation, a realistic time commitment, and aligning goals lead to successful experiences.

With telecommuting, 2021’s interns can’t just walk down the hall to meet people and learn who does what. Take the onboarding process seriously, and communicate more day-to-day details. Make interns part of the team immediately. On day one, ensure that the intern has internet access, an internal mentor, internet connection, logins to Slack, company email, etc.

Interns arrive with functional competence, but they will need ongoing guidance on your culture, appropriate business etiquette, and how to work across the organization. Daily standups with one or two quick questions help interns stay engaged, home in on the business, and keep on track — yesterday’s results, today’s plan, and any hurdles or roadblocks. Be intentional about understanding their development goals. Build-in performance and feedback opportunities with signoff from both the manager and the intern. Is the intern accomplishing their goals? Is there something they want to do or learn that they haven’t? How can you help them improve?

3. Balance operational and strategic assignments to provide a consistent flow of work

Skill-wise, meet interns where they are. Assign them ownership of specific operational tasks. For example:

  • Build out a lead generation database,
  • Create a data room for financial and funding projects,
  • Create two customer personas; and
  • Write and post three social media elements per week.

Give interns a high standard and let them meet that standard. Push the opportunity for them to become subject matter experts. Push questions and coworkers to your interns. Give the interns the autonomy to answer questions. Support quick, small wins.

Supplement operational work with a strategic project that they can research and brainstorm throughout their internship. Tailor that project to the intern’s interests. Cap it with a presentation opportunity to company leadership.

Internships create a diverse pipeline of future hires. Bring them in to impact your business. When you commit to working with interns, you commit to the future of their education and success. You will be amazed at how much they contribute to yours.