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How Students Can Successfully Intern with Startups

Guest Blog Post written by Keegan Moldenhauer, founder of Internship on Demand

Internships in the startup world are a win-win for everyone involved. They allow startups the opportunity to find their first hires, bring in fresh ideas, and often do so at a lower cost than hiring an experienced full-time employee away from another job. For interns, they offer massive professional and personal development and the ability to enter a team changing the world. I am a big believer in internships. They’re the number one predictor of post-graduation success. If you’re a college student or career changer looking to work for a startup, check out some of the advice we share.

Ask any founder of a fast-growing startup what they do on a daily basis and you’ll hear how different each day can be.

Startups are constantly solving new problems as they arise. Be it customer support, product crashes, or investor requests, the business, and its employees are almost never able to define their days ahead of time. Sound like your kind of work? If you answered yes, maybe your next internship should be with a startup!

Interning with a startup is incredibly valuable. You are able to join a tight-knit team solving big problems that might disrupt an entire industry. You can put a great name on your resume and develop skills outside of your specific role – something you’ll certainly find more difficult at a large organization with more defined roles. And if things go well, you might have the opportunity to join the team as an early employee.

You’ve decided you want to work for a startup – great! What now?

1. Find the startups in your neighborhood (and beyond)

Tap into the local startup scene to learn more about the businesses in your area. In Madison, we have groups like StartingBlock Madison and Capital Entrepreneurs where entrepreneurs can post open positions. Statewide, groups like the Wisconsin Technology Council, and gener8tor can clue in on businesses that might be a good fit.

Nationally, traditionally websites like LinkedIn, Handshake, and Indeed can work but are typically less used by startups. Try angellist.co and Ladder newsletter to find remote jobs, many of them for startups, across the country.

2. Take the initiative to get noticed

Let’s face it – startup founders are busy. They barely have time to think about their next hire let alone post the job to a job board. What does that mean for interns? It means you should reach out, ask about open positions, and share why you’d be a good fit for the company.

Here’s a template we recommend.

Subject: “Intern openings with [insert company name here]?”

Hi, I’m [insert name here], I am a student at [insert school] studying [insert major/focus here]. I came across your company and [insert compliment that plays to the ego of the founder (trust me, we all love a compliment about our businesses), e.g. “I really align with the mission of your business”]. I wanted to reach out and ask if you’d be willing to take on an intern to help with projects? I bring [insert a few skills you’re uniquely great at] and am a fast learner (or some similar “soft skill”). I’d appreciate the opportunity to share more about my background and why I’d be a good fit for your business. Please feel free to review my resume (attached) and let me know how you’d like to proceed.

Best,

[name]”

Don’t be afraid to test this out and make adjustments as you’d like. You should make this introduction short and sweet and ask for a follow-up meeting.

3. Be prepared to change roles and responsibilities

Focus changes day-to-day in a startup. Be prepared for and accept that your role and responsibilities will change throughout your internship. Embrace the change as an opportunity to grow. But remember to ask your manager for clear expectations to make sure you meet their goals.

4. Check with your university for credit or wage assistance

Some colleges and universities will extend credit for participation in internships. Check-in with your university career center to determine if your opportunity falls under their set criteria. Also, ask about opportunities for your career center to assist in covering the costs of your wages. This makes it almost impossible for a startup to say no to adding an intern (read; YOU!)

5. Keep a growth mindset

You won’t be expected to completely nail every task you’re assigned as an intern. This is true whether interning at a large, established firm or a startup. Take initiative to solve problems as assigned. When you’re stuck, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Remember – you’re there to learn! The best interns are the ones who are teachable and willing to take on new challenges with a positive attitude.

For companies – How to manage your interns well

It takes time and effort to onboard your interns, but doing it right from the get-go means your interns will be more productive in the long run.

We recommend a high-touch, heavy engagement onboarding process for your interns. Introduce everyone on the team, review your expectations and any initial project work with them, and consider giving them a week or two to shadow their manager (even if they’re a founder) to learn how things get done. This might seem like a lot of your time – and it is. But this early investment pays off in the long run.

Your next step? Cut them loose. Your intern should know their expectations. They should know who to go to for specific questions. Our advice in simple terms – give them enough work to sink or swim. Just be ready to jump in and save them if needed. Give them enough work to test their resolve, but be ready to offer help. An intern asking for help is a sign that they’re willing to learn and a willingness to learn is one of the best skills to have in a startup employee.

About Internship on Demand

Internship on Demand improves career outcomes for college students and companies by making professional experience equitable and accessible. Our pre-internship platform connects college students with meaningful professional experience at top organizations and manages their development from candidate, to pre-intern, and eventually to full-time intern. Pre-internship are built on core practices shared across all industries and tailored to the unique needs of each sponsoring company to match their culture and workplace responsibilities.

Internship on Demand works with companies like Spectrum Brands, Bemis Manufacturing, and more. Learn more about Internship on Demand: https://www.internshipondemand.com/

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