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The Ultimate Guide to Hiring Interns for Your Startup

As a startup founder turned angel investor, I’ve been on both sides of the hiring process many times. Bringing interns on board can be an amazing way to get affordable talent, mentor the next generation, and even find your company’s next rockstar employees.

However, the intern hiring process also comes with unique challenges. You need to attract the right candidates, set up a program that provides real value, and navigate legal minefields.

This ultimate guide covers everything you need to know about hiring interns – from where to find them to how to make sure it’s a win-win for everyone involved.

Benefits of Hiring Interns

Why even consider hiring interns in the first place? Well, there are actually several compelling reasons:

Fresh Perspective – Interns bring a fresh set of eyes and new ways of thinking to your company. Their lack of ingrained habits can lead to innovative ideas.

Affordable Talent –  Let’s be honest, as a startup you’re probably operating on a shoestring budget. Interns provide an affordable way to get high-quality work done.

Mentor Future Talent – Internships allow you to play a role in shaping the next generation of talent in your industry. You’re investing in the future workforce.

Identify Future Hires – The internship serves as an extended job interview. You get to see candidates in action before hiring them full-time.

Increased Productivity –  Interns handle critical tasks and free up bandwidth for your existing team to focus on higher priorities.

When to Hire Interns?

There’s no single perfect time to start hiring interns. It depends on factors like your:

  • Company stage and growth plans
  • Current team bandwidth
  • Ability to properly onboard and manage interns
  • Available budget

Many startups begin bringing on interns once they have a few full-time employees in place who can properly support an internship program. However, I’ve seen founders start with interns from day one.

How to Find Great Intern Candidates?

Where do you even start looking for high-quality interns?

Here are some of the top sources:

University Job Boards – Most colleges have online job boards specifically for advertising internships to their students. Reach out to the career services office to get a listing posted.

Internship Websites – Sites like WayUp, InternshipKing, and Internships.com are dedicated internship search engines where students look for opportunities.

Your Own Network – Don’t underestimate your existing network – alumni from your alma mater, friends’ kids, children of investors or advisors, etc.

Employee Referrals – Incentivize your team to refer strong candidates they know. They understand what you’re looking for.

Setting Up Your Internship Program

Simply hiring interns haphazardly is a recipe for disaster. You need to design a structured internship program that:

Has Clear Goals and Expectations – Define exactly what you want interns to achieve and communicate those objectives clearly from the beginning.

Provides Real, Valuable Work – Don’t just give interns mindless busywork. They should work on projects that create value for your business.

Includes Training and Mentorship – Pair each intern with an experienced employee mentor who provides guidance and feedback.

Offers Growth Opportunities – Structure the program in a way that helps interns develop new skills they can apply to future roles.

Complies With All Labor Laws – Be sure you understand regulations around paying interns, getting them proper visas if needed, etc.

Interviewing and Selecting Interns

Once you’ve sourced candidates, you need an effective process for evaluating and selecting interns. Here are some tips:

Define Criteria Upfront – Determine must-have skills, experience, and attributes before interviews. This reduces bias.

Use Project-Based Interviews – Have candidates complete an actual task they’d work on as an intern to assess skills.

Look for Passion and Growth Mindset – While hard skills are important, also prioritize drive, curiosity, and willingness to learn.

Check Cultural Fit – Whether they’d gel with your current team and embody your company values matters.

Move Quickly – Since intern hiring is often seasonal, you need an efficient process to secure top talent.

Onboarding Interns

The onboarding process sets the tone and lays the groundwork for a successful internship experience. Nail it by:

Making Them Feel Welcome – Have their desk setup, accounts created, swag ready, etc. so they feel like part of the team.

Setting Expectations – Clearly communicate responsibilities, work hours, dress code, and what successful performance looks like.

Providing Initial Training – Don’t just throw interns into the deep end. Invest time upfront into onboarding and skills training.

Assigning a Mentor – Their mentor should meet with them regularly to answer questions and provide feedback.

Managing Interns During Their Internship

Congratulations, you made it through the sourcing, hiring, and onboarding stages! Now you need to effectively manage interns:

Set Up 1-on-1 Meetings – Interns should have recurring check-ins, ideally weekly, with their mentors.

Offer Opportunities for Exposure – Include interns in team meetings, lunch & learns, or even pitches to investors.

Gather Feedback – Frequently ask for feedback on how to improve the program or their experience.

Provide Evaluations – Give interns candid assessments of their performance, strengths, and areas for improvement.

Make It Fun – Plan team outings, lunches, or intern social events so they build connections and enjoy themselves.

Converting Interns to Full-Time Employees

Your best interns will make ideal full-time hires since you’ve had a chance to really get to know them. To convert them:

Check-In Regularly – Have conversations throughout the internship about their interest in a full-time role.

Make the Process Clear – Let them know exactly what’s required to get a return offer (great performance, etc.)

Extend Offers Early – If you want them, extend offers 4-8 weeks before their internship ends.

Sell Your Company’s Story – Pitch them on why the opportunity is so exciting – career growth, equity, etc.

Checklist for Hiring Interns

Here’s a checklist for hiring interns at your startup:

Pre-Internship Preparation

☐ Define goals and projects for your internship program

☐ Secure budget for intern payroll, benefits, etc.

☐ Develop position descriptions and qualification criteria

☐ Select head mentor(s) to manage intern experience

☐ Ensure compliance with all labor laws and visa requirements

☐ Plan out application timelines (open roles, interviews, decisions)

Finding and Sourcing Candidates

☐ Post openings on university job boards and internship sites

☐ Tap into your professional network for referrals

☐ Leverage current employees for intern candidate referrals

☐ Attend career fairs at target universities

☐ Promote opportunities on social media and your website

Interviewing and Selection

☐ Create skill-based assignments or case studies for interviews

☐ Define evaluation rubric for rating candidates

☐ Conduct structured interviews focused on skills and culture fit

☐ Move quickly and send decision notifications promptly

☐ Handle offer letters, employment agreements, and hiring paperwork

Onboarding and Setup

☐ Prepare workstation, accounts, equipment, swag for new interns

☐ Schedule intern orientation and training sessions

☐ Assign experienced employee mentors to each intern

☐ Communicate schedule, dress code, and expectations clearly

☐ Plan fun team-bonding event to make interns feel welcomed

Program Management

☐ Set calendar for weekly 1-on-1s between mentors and interns

☐ Schedule periodic performance evaluations and feedback sessions

☐ Invite interns to relevant team meetings, events, and learning opportunities

☐ Gather intern feedback regularly on improving the program

☐ Consider arranging social activities to build intern camaraderie

Program Wrap-Up

☐ Conduct exit interviews to get intern parting thoughts

☐ Provide letter summarizing accomplishments for their records

☐ Extend full-time offers to top performers well before conclusion

☐ Celebrate and recognize valuable contributions of interns

☐ Document lessons learned for improving next intern cohort


Hiring interns for your startup can be an amazing way to get affordable help, develop talent, identify future hires, and inject new perspectives into your company. However, it requires setting up a structured program with clear goals, valuable work, mentorship, and compliance with labor laws.

Promote your opportunities on university job boards and internship sites. Use skill-based interviews to assess capabilities and cultural fit. Provide strong onboarding and ongoing management. Finally, proactively convert your stellar interns into full-time employees.

Done right, an internship program pays massive dividends for your startup’s growth.


Q: How many interns should I hire for my startup?

A: It depends on factors like your current team size, bandwidth to properly manage interns, and scope of intern projects. Many startups start by hiring 1-3 interns per summer or semester.

Q: Should I pay interns?

A: In most cases, yes. There are strict criteria for unpaid internships involving educational training. It’s usually simpler and better to pay at least minimum wage.

Q: What kind of projects should interns work on?

A: Assign interns real, value-creating work related to their interests and your business needs – market research, data analysis, website updates, customer service, marketing campaigns, etc.

Q: How long should an internship last?

A: 10-16 weeks tends to be the sweet spot for most internships. This gives enough time for training and making an impact without being too much of a commitment.

Q: Can international students be interns?

A: Yes, as long as they have proper visa documentation allowing them to work, like a CPT or OPT. Work closely with your university partner on immigration compliance.

Intern Hiring Quiz

Q1) You’re evaluating candidates for a marketing intern role. Which of the following attributes should you prioritize?

A) Passion for your industry/product B) High GPA C) Prior marketing internship experience D) Ability to use Photoshop

The right answer is A) Passion for your industry/product. While factors like GPA, experience, and specific skills are nice bonuses, the most important trait is a genuine enthusiasm and interest in what your startup is doing. You can much more easily train an intern on hard skills than you can instill passion.

Q2) True or False: The only reason to hire interns is to get cheap labor for busywork tasks.

A) True B) False

The right answer is B) False. If you view interns merely as affordable labor for menial tasks, you’re missing out on their full potential. Interns should be assigned meaningful projects that create value, help them develop skills, and allow you to truly evaluate them for potential full-time roles.

Q3) How frequently should you conduct check-ins with your interns?

A) Once at the beginning and end of the internship B) Monthly C) Weekly D) Daily

The right answer is C) Weekly. Interns need regular face time and feedback from their mentors. Monthly check-ins are too infrequent, while daily would be excessive. Aim for a weekly 30-minute 1-on-1 meeting.

Q4) What’s the biggest legal risk to be aware of when hiring interns?

A) Unpaid internships violating labor laws B) Immigration issues with international students C) Age discrimination concerns D) All of the above

The right answer is D) All of the above. Unpaid internships have to meet strict criteria for educational training. Visa rules must be followed for international hires. And you can’t discriminate based on age. Properly vetting these areas is crucial.

Q5) When is the ideal time to extend a full-time offer to a stellar intern you want to keep?

A) On their first day B) A few weeks into the internship C) 4-8 weeks before their internship ends D) On their last day

The right answer is C) 4-8 weeks before their internship ends. Extending an offer this early gives them ample time to mull over the decision and demonstrates how valued they are. Waiting until their last day is too late – they may have accepted another offer already.


5 Correct: You’re an intern hiring master! You understand all the key nuances involved.

4 Correct: You have a solid grasp but could brush up in a few areas.

3 Correct: Not bad, but review the areas you missed. 2 or fewer: You may want to revisit the full guide before kicking off your internship program.

























































































































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