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Interns don't suck. Blame the processes. Here's how to fix it.

Sep. 2021

As a startup in the early-stage, the lack of processes is both a blessing and a curse. It’s what allows you to be agile yet at the same time, it’s what halts your progress. When interns enter into the picture, the lack of process affects both of you negatively. The interns are not productive in their work and you can pretty much say goodbye to good ROI. Matter of fact, you may even have to “clean” up after them. Good news is: there’s a better way.

1) The fundamental thing you should do is to look for the good intern

But what does a good intern look like? you may ask

Hint: look for side projects.

Good, bad, average - whatever your value judgment is- the truth is: resumes no longer do the job in a competitive and fragmented job market. They just don't fully reflect interns' skills. Overstatements, half-truths, misrepresentations; you name it, it is there and poses risks and uncertainties as you're seeking specific profiles.

So how can you make sure you found the most suitable candidate? Look for people who actually demonstrate what they say they do. One solution to that is to look for side projects and portfolios.

Portfolios are becoming the new resume as we are gravitating towards a digital-by-default age. Applicants showing their hand-on experiences eases the process of decision making by focusing on the variables that do matter for you and your business.

2) Find a common ground between you and the intern

An intern is there to learn and you need them to split the gas bill (that is the one required to get your company to the next milestone) with you. With these in mind, your mission should you accept it is to find a half-way point where the interns get to learn whilst doing activities that directly and indirectly benefit the company. Interns need to be integrated in the work processes and be constantly in the loop. The more they are actively involved in projects or discussions, the more they feel valued and the more they give back.

Seek to understand what they want to learn (by asking them) and see how you can adapt and present the tasks assigned to them. The simplest form of this is to simply present the task and provide the reasoning behind it like: “When you do this, you’ll actually learn more about X Y Z” -- plus it’s way better, humanely speaking, to do so rather than just “Do this.” because while they may be “disposable”, they may well be your future collaborators, even better yet, they’re your present ambassadors.

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3) Provide orientation

No matter how good they are, interns need to be nudged in the right direction. You are the expert, and you have a role to play, that of a mentor and guide (Yoda). There's 2 effective ways to do so: establishing deadlines, and getting-started resources (These could be blog posts, YT videos, podcasts..).

Getting-started resources are needed to to define values and expectations, while getting deadlines helps with organizing one's work and make it clear what and when certain tasks are expected by, impacting every concerned party's time and progress.

Continuous orientation, either by giving feedback or implementing various training techniques will generally result in increased productivity, and impact your work positively, all else being equal. It's crucial to set clear objectives, define the workflows, and make sure they are being met along the way.

For some, internships are just a way to check in a box required for their pedagogical training, but many are looking for meaningful and engaging opportunities, and are willing to create change and impact. Pandora's box has opened and there's no going back now.

The question becomes: How do we move forward in a way that will benefit both employers and interns?