How do I know when it's an appropriate time to hire interns for my startup?
The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment and underemployment and provides entrepreneurs with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of their business's development and growth.
When You Have Time & Resources to Dedicate to Mentoring Them
Taking on interns shouldn't be something you do just because you could use the extra help. It's vital to remember that these folks are students or recent graduates that require training and mentorship in the field. So, until you have time (and funds) to do that – or can hire someone else to manage the program – I wouldn't recommend bringing on an intern (or several).
If you are able to get a good intern that you do not have to pay for, you should get them as soon as possible. All good companies need good people and if you don't have to pay someone and all you have to do is train them to your system, why wouldn't you want the extra help? Even if you have to pay them, the time is now to look at how you can leverage the efforts of other people to build out.
When You Have a Strong Training Program Set Up
Most interns need direction, and very few interns are actually capable of working in the free-for-all environment that is a startup. Sure, you can sell a lot of interns on the idea of contributing to running a business, but when they're thrown into the mess that can be a startup, they might just give up and quit. If you have a strong training program to enable them to do a good job, then hire away
When You Have Real Tasks at Hand
You're ready for an intern when there's more to do than filing and data entry. Hire an intern who can contribute something more to your company than filing papers and entering data. Find an intern who can learn from the experience, but can also contribute something significant to your company's bottom line. Creating a mutually-beneficial experience is most important, for everyone involved.
After Delegating Intern Management Responsibilities
Unless you want more work for yourself, hire or make your first intern the program coordinator who will recruit, interview, place and manage your interns so you don't have to deal with the details. When the coordinator has a program structure in place, hire away!
Growing beyond the Grunt
I think a lot of interns end up doing a lot of grunt work without much teaching. Although the work you give doesn't necessarily have to be earth shaking, someone should be spending some time with the interns, teaching them the ins and outs of your industry.
There is very little downside to bringing on at least one intern. You will be amazed at how many low-level activities you are performing each day-things that don't become apparent until you actually start thinking of what you would ask an intern to do. If you can't quickly think of five activities for an intern to do, you are probably micromanaging.
It's Never Too Early
Interns are looking for work experience, so what better time for them to learn than at an early-stage venture? As with any internship program, make sure that you have a specific project delineated and communicate what the deliverables and metrics of success are. Hiring interns is a win-win at an early stage when you can use more hands on deck and they can be part of a high-growth, exciting firm.
How Much Bandwidth Do You Have?
Interns can be a great way to get to things you've wanted to do for the business, but have not been able to, because of the lack of bandwidth. Startups only have so many people working for the company, and because of this, not everything you want done can get done. Interns can allow you to get to some of these items.
Justin Beegel, Infographic World, Inc.
When You Have Enough to Delegate
When I first started my company, I used to think that having interns was great when, as a matter of fact, they wasted a lot of my time. You should not hire interns just to have them. Instead, you should hire interns when you have too much work on your plate and too little money to hire someone full-time. Unpaid interns are such a flight risk that you can never depend on them.
When You Are Structured Enough to Support Them
If your business is not structured enough to give an intern a chair, desk, computer and instructions then you will not get any value out of them. Interns need to be trained and given attention in order to provide tangible value. If your system is running smoothly and now you are looking to delegate the pieces then you should be looking to hire interns to assist.
When You Have Time to Spare
Startups are always quick to hire cheap labor, but often times interns turn out to be a major time drain. Ask yourself what the ROI on the time it takes to train and delegate things to an intern, especially if they are going to be doing tasks that don't often prove ROI themselves like social media. Interns can be great, but make sure they are helping you get to your major outcomes.
When You're Busy with Busy Work
You will know when it's the appropriate time to hire interns for your startup when you find that you are in need of spending more time on important tasks that further your business than less important tasks, or "busy work," which can easily be done by someone less experienced.
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