What to Watch Out for When Hiring Student Interns
If you’re looking for an extra hand to help your company build your minimum viable product or website, hiring an intern isn’t a bad idea. Orange County is full of talented technical students who are eager to gain experience and would be a good asset to your startup or business.
But finding a student intern or two isn’t as simple as it sounds. Bringing in interns always involves a degree of risk, from finding the right candidates to training and managing them for everyone’s success.
Since The Portal is all about finding and cultivating student talent, here are the problems and solutions that we’ve come up with over the past few years while working with our interns and apprentices.
Balancing Student Intern Convenience and the Company
Many of the issues that you’ll encounter with student interns will come inherently through their circumstances as students and their obligation to school.
A non-exhaustive list of these challenges that we’ve run into have included:
- location and student accessibility,
- cultivating soft skills,
- maintaining motivation and drive, and
- handling commitment.
At The Portal, we were able to solve some of these problems with relatively simple fixes. In terms of location, for example, we’re located in a building situated at the center of the plaza just across the street from UCI campus for the convenience of the students in our apprenticeship positions.
But things like soft skills, addressing motivation and drive, and striking a balance between our students’ commitments to both work and school is something that The Portal is still trying to perfect. We’ve found that some of the simplest things, like giving careful training and providing close mentorship, has helped us solve many of these problems.
Screen and Train Student Interns Carefully
Internships are perfect opportunities for students that are eager to learn, but that doesn’t mean that you can take every well-intentioned and eager student that expresses interest. Think about your team’s needs as you go through applications and interviews to save everyone trouble in the long run.
Ask yourself a couple of questions as you’re assessing potential candidates: Do they seem willing and open to learning and taking criticism? Where do you think they’ll fit in with the existing team? Are their goals for this internship sound like something you’ll be able to help them with? What does their commitment look like? Are they willing to adapt and take on more than what’s detailed in their position?
Set aside some time to train your new intern, no matter how technically prepared they may seem. Whether it’s to familiarize them with parts of an existing project or to have them start from scratch, it’ll take time to ramp up and make sure that everyone’s on the same page.
The training process doesn’t have to be along the lines of The Portal’s intensive five week curriculum, but look for opportunities to have them exercise both technical and soft skills.
Invite your interns to sit in on your meetings, include them in the decision-making process, and show them some of the ins and outs of the company and incorporate them into the team. Practice makes perfect for both technical and soft skills.
Provide Students with Valuable Mentorship
Providing a mentor that the students can look to for motivation and inspiration is vital. Students aren’t motivated solely by pay — it’s important to give them someone that can help them learn not only about their current position, but the career that they’re interested in.
Whomever you choose to have act as the mentor for your intern should be able to provide help with whatever you ask them to do. For example, if you a have an intern for a technical position, it would be best to have someone technically-oriented on your team to be able to provide guidance and concrete advice, whether with the task at hand or even with career advice.
A good mentor should be able to teach them best practices, techniques to tackle certain problems, and how to manage a project overall along with providing guidance and final reviews.
If a student intern is performing well and is eager to take on greater challenges, their mentor should also be able to find ways to continue helping them grow.
Be Flexible, Understanding, and Adaptable
Student schedules are, by far, one of the most challenging things we’ve encountered while working with students at The Portal. If your internship position is open during the school year, be prepared to have to adapt your intern’s schedule according to midterms, projects, finals and other obligations to school.
You can’t reasonably ask current students to neglect school for the sake of an internship, which means you’ll have to be prepared to plan around work slowing down during breaks when students are traveling home or are otherwise occupied with the end of the quarter.
Even when students aren’t preoccupied with studying or larger assignments, you have to make sure you’re clear in your expectations. With everything that students take on in terms of their course load, extracurriculars, and internships, explicitly stating what you expect your interns to be able to commit to is key.
We’ve found that some students tend to think that simply showing up for the hours that they’re scheduled is enough, regardless of whether or not they complete the tasks assigned to them. Ideally, their mentor can prepare them to take on a project that can’t be restricted to an academic timeline.
Being upfront with your students will keep everyone on the same page and will help set everyone up for success. Even if your interns can’t commit to working consistently enough over their breaks, at least knowing when to expect your slowdowns will help you manage your clients’ expectations and you can prepare your resources accordingly.
A Little Effort Will Yield Big Results
Good interns are hard to find, but they’re worth the time it takes to find and nurture them. Interns that are hungry to learn and willing to grow will adapt and learn quickly in the right environment. Providing mentorship along with real-world experience will help your interns grow beyond just doing simple tasks.
Putting a little time and work into your student interns here and there will yield huge benefits for your business in the long run, turning them into a valuable resource and asset for your team.