OtherHow I Spent My Summer Vacation: Interns and Startups Share their Stories (Part II)

A few weeks ago, we shared the experiences here on our blog (“How I spent My Summer Vacation Part I”) of some of the talented summer interns we helped connect with startups through the popular “OEN Connect” intern program.

Another OEN Intern Fair is coming up soon – Friday, Sept. 28, at University of Portland – where college students and entrepreneurs have the chance to meet and match through a fun “speed dating” format. If you’d like to participate, please contact Kirsten Ringen at kirstenr@oen.org or 503-222-2270.

To find out how valuable internship programs can be for many Oregon startups, we wanted to share the perspective of a few of the companies who hired interns this past summer.

What the Startups Told Us…
We talked with the following entrepreneurs about the OEN intern fair and their experiences this past summer:

Q: Why was your company interested in offering an internship, and what kind of intern(s) were you looking for?
Aaron: We have had good success in working with interns in the past. Our goal has always been to find interns who have potential for future work in the firm. Therefore, we are looking for interns who are ready to hit the ground running. They train in many of the key aspects of our client deliverables and are set up to contribute work that, once reviewed, can become part of those deliverables.
Wendi: At the time of the OEN Internship & Job Fair, there was only one marketing employee and we felt this would be a good way to help us to do a better job with social media marketing that was also affordable (of course startup= tight marketing budget!). The pool of candidates was so strong it caused us to rethink the position and evolve it from an internship into a real part-time job (i.e. hire as an employee vs. contractor.).
Scott: We sought and hired marketing and technical interns for the summer to help us with important, longer-term projects that were difficult for us to prioritize over immediate day-to-day business demands. It also gave us a way to preview how each intern would be like to work with next year after they graduated, which is about the time we expect to hire for these positions.

Q: Tell us about your involvement with the OEN Intern Fair?
Aaron: We have participated in a number of these fairs over the years. We’ve found the shotgun format a good barometer of who has come with a specific interest in who we are as a firm and what we do. For the culture of our company and the work that we do, it’s important to see who is looking for work and who is looking to work at Sparkloft Media.
Jeff: We heard about the intern fair through an OEN newsletter at the last minute. We decided to (finally) purchase an OEN membership so we could attend, and are glad we did. We met dozens of students and learned a lot about the talent being produced at local universities.

Q: What can a startup offer an intern that a more established company cannot – in other words, what are the advantages of doing an internship at a startup?
Aaron: As we work in an industry that is constantly changing, the roles and responsibilities of our interns are constantly changing as well. In one example, an intern we met at this fair started one day with one project and by the time the day ended, she had worked on four different projects. That is a normal day for us so we don’t shelter our interns from our pace and the flexibility we need to have to deliver on our client requests. In that sense, I know that many established company intern programs are much more scripted and scheduled. So we are upfront with all interns and new hires about the dynamics here and those who succeed thrive in that type of environment.
Jeff: Interning at a startup is more likely to provide a real work experience. There are no token positions where interns go on coffee runs, we have real work that must get done! Interning at a startup also means playing a larger role in the company….the work our interns completed this summer has a lasting impact on our company. Finally, it’s probably a lot more fun to work with us! We are laid back with a casual office, with all the free drinks and snacks you can consume, and frequent trips out for lunch or happy hour as a team.

Q: What advice would you give another entrepreneur about looking for qualified interns?
Aaron: Meet a lot of people. Don’t settle for a body because you need one. Any new hire, including interns, require a significant time commitment from the employer so make sure you will get as much out of their work as they will get out of the experience at your firm.
Jeff: First, know what role you want an intern to play. Nothing worse then having them show up and not have a clear understanding of what to do. Remember, internships should be valuable both directions. Second, be prepared to talk to a lot of students that want to work for you but don’t have the right background. These are young, enthusiastic kids that are hungry for experience. A large number will want to intern for you, but only a few will have what it takes. Finally, look for a proper mix of skills and passion. Sometimes, the best intern (or general employee for that matter) is the person with fewer skills but boatloads of passion.
Scott: We looked for candidates with relevant subject matter experience in both their work and education histories. We also were lucky to find one candidate that had worked in a start-up previously. These things were important, but equally important is that the entrepreneur is prepared to invest time and energy teaching the intern about the business. If the time invested in an intern isn’t a burden on the management team, then that team probably isn’t doing it right. And of course, the more you invest in the intern, the more he/she can contribute to your success.
Wendi: Be very clear what the goals of the position and the required skill set are to ensure a successful outcome for both you and the student. It’s important to set realistic, measurable goals for an intern. This may be their first “real” job experience and the internship should be win-win: a meaningful experience for them in addition to your company receiving potentially great talent at a bargain.

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