What Makes an Intern a Good Hire?

Nathan Parcells, Co-founder of Internmatch.com

This is a guest post by Nathan Parcells. Nathan Parcells is co-founder of InternMatch.com, a leading website to help students find amazing internships and help companies find amazing interns.  Nathan has spoken at universities across the country on intern hiring issues and InternMatch was part of 500 Startups’ first batch.

Why Fantastic Interns add $50K+ of Value to Your Startup, and Mediocre Interns Will Cost You


A few years ago Aaron Patzer, co-founder of Mint.com, gave one of the best startup presentations I have seen.  He dissected the process of Starting a Company, and in doing so sparked countless conversations about the value of business co-founders, all of which helped lead to the rise of the hustler over the MBA.


At InternMatch we hear a similar debate about the value of interns at early stage companies.  Some startup founders swear by interns, looking at them as a strategic pipeline to convert new hires and grow, while others write them off as too much of a distraction. A big reason for this spectrum of experiences is the delta between good and fantastic interns at early stage companies.


At a startup you simply cannot waste time and resources with employees who aren’t a good culture fit, are working on non-essential projects, or who need excessive attention.  You need fantastic interns, rather than simply good interns.




So what makes an intern fantastic?


Cultural Fit:


When an intern is the right fit for your company they bring energy, excitement, and new ideas into the office every day.  They complete their tasks with enthusiasm and precision and find new work to do even when you are too busy to assign something.


If an intern is a bad cultural fit, they’ll get bored and treat work like a class, doing just enough to pass.


Cultural fit is hard to define and can mean a number of different things for different companies.  For a language learning company like MindSnacks it might mean having taught yourself at least one language outside of class.  At a tech-centric company it might mean reading Hacker News on a weekly basis.  Regardless, of how you define culture, an intern won’t be fantastic if they aren’t thrilled about your startup’s mission and personality.


Find a Do-er:


Another attribute that is critical at small companies but not necessarily at large organizations is finding students who skew towards action over perfection.


At an early stage company you need someone who is scrappy, likes finding cost-efficient solutions, and isn’t afraid to turn in a mostly finished product.  You don’t want a student who comes up with great ideas, but needs a graphic designer, developer, and three grand to execute on them.


One way to find such “studentpreneurs” is to  screen for students who have completed quality extra-curriculars at college over those who have solely gotten straight A’s.  Students who are club presidents, have interesting side projects, and achieve outside of class, tend to be far more intrinsically motivated and comfortable creating their own goals rather than just following directions.


Understands the working world:


Fantastic students intuitively get what it is like to work in a professional setting.  This does not mean that they have 2+ years of experience (although that can help), but it does mean they can send quality emails, communicate with co-workers, and ask smart questions that help them solve problems more efficiently.  Some of this can be taught, but if you have to teach all these skills you are probably not leveraging your time effectively as a founder.


While you can usually detect these soft skills over the phone, at InternMatch we go a step further.  We mention in our internship descriptions that we love it when a student follows-up with us by email after they apply.  Those who follow these instructions and do so in a professional manner, pass another important bar in our mind.


Don’t Settle:


Many of the most successful startup companies grew their early teams by tapping into the inexpensive and often brilliant talent that is available on college campuses. However, to avoid a hiring pitfall ALWAYS screen for interns who fit your culture, know how to deliver, and can act professional.  This is more important than pure skill.


For more hiring tactics check out our how to hire a rock star intern presentation or feel free to email me at nathan@internmatch.com.

Vi Tran

Vi is the Social Media Intern at 500 Startups. When she's not obsessing over what's trending and engagement rate at 500, she hustles for Startup Grind. She likes sushi.

Never miss a beat

  • Pingback: What Makes an Intern a Good Hire? | fnBlog

  • Andrei

    you can;t tell if an intern knows how to deliver nor if he can act professionally. these are not consultants.
    you need to look for smart guys who are a good cultura fit and have passion for the technology . That’s all.

    To asses that you need to intervew them yourself as a CEO/Founder – and this is where it becomes very time consuming.

    Also getting good interns to applyin the pipeline – also hugely time consuming. You need to go grab them from universities together with 1 zillion mediocre companies ..

    On the positive side it is teh best way to get realy bright people who will beocme your core team as you grow – maybe with a fe extra senior hires – which re 10x more difficult to find than a good quality junior and are a much worse deal.

    Hiring people takes time and there is no easy way.. Any system will be abused/cheated/distorted..

    Can’t put people in boxes.

  • Christine Whone

    Hi Nathan! We’ve been dealing with this here at Actually ( http://www.actuallywecreate.com) a Communication Design firm north of Toronto. It seems the younger folks of today lack professionalism, business etiquette, and enjoy discussing “everything” on social media channels.

    I’ve yet to determine whether or not its possible to detect if an intern or coop student will act professionally, and show initiative once hired, after but a few interviews. Most of them are insanly brilliant, but lack professionalism and business etiquette. It’s hard to manage those who have no training on business etiquette – perhaps a class in college or university needs to be taught around business etiquette?

    I disagree with your comment about judging performance based on academic achievements. I think it’s difficult to judge people based on this, because everyone comes from different situations, and life experiences which influenced their academic achievements.

    For example, I wasn’t an academic scholar, but I worked hard, and I pushed myself to meet deadlines and get assignments completed. I had to work part-time to pay my way through school, and often times my grades reflected this. School and work can be hard to balance, and I don’t think I could not hire someone if they had average grades and no extracurricular activities. Ya know?

    Anyway, thanks for the great insights. You definitely got me thinking more!