Whether they’re bootstrapped or funded, it’s rare to find a startup with cash to spare. That’s why many startups favor the practice of hiring unpaid interns. The intern benefits from more hands-on experience (and less likelihood of fetching coffee) than traditional internships, and the startup genuinely cannot afford to pay their interns, unlike big companies that really have no excuse. It’s also far more common for internships to lead to paying jobs at startups, where CEOs often know interns by name, so new employees can forgive the first few unpaid months when the paychecks start coming in.
But, in the wake of last year’s labor suit brought against Fox Searchlight Pictures by two disgruntled unpaid interns on the hit movie Black Swan (which boasted $300 million in revenue), and last month’s suit against media titan Hearst by former Harper’s Bazaar intern Xuedan Wang, it seems big companies are increasingly starting to pay their interns. Even Conde Nast has radically improved their notoriously harsh internship policies following the Hearst suit, including a ban on personal errands and a $550 stipend for interns.
The intern market is more competitive than ever, with Silicon Valley giants like Facebook and Google paying interns a whopping $10,000 on average for a summer internship. So how can startups compete with big companies for top intern talent?
- If you can, pay. Startups who can free up some funds to pay interns should consider doing so. Even a small stipend goes a long way to halt the swift path to disenchantment unpaid interns often experience. And paying interns will differentiate your internship from the many hundreds of unpaid startup internships, which will in turn help you attract more competitive candidates.
- Make interns an integral part of the team. Including interns in meetings, CCing them on company-wide emails, and inviting them for after-work drinks will make them feel like valued insiders instead of low-level dregs. Instead of relegating them to doing menial “intern work,” give them exciting and challenging projects. Word travels fast among the youngins, so when other college kids hear about how hands-on your internship is, your email will be flooded with intern requests.
- Pair interns with a mentor. Mentorship programs make internships about long-term career development and personal growth, instead of free or low-paid assistant work. This is especially true in an entrepreneurial setting where an intern could feasibly be paired with someone senior in the organization, even one of the founders.
- Turn your internship program into your recruiting strategy. Take a cue from well-established tech companies like Google and implement a “try before you buy” policy by testing out entry-level hires as interns first. If students recognize that an internship could lead to a legitimate job opportunity, your internship will suddenly be at the top of their list.
Disclaimer: The Grindstone is a small startup and we don’t pay our interns due to budgetary restraints. But we love our interns and would if we could! Also, if you are interested in a spring or summer internship with The Grindstone click here.