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Hire an intern!

by Curtis Whiting, VP of Product at ZSuite Technologies

For 10 years I’ve used College students as mini “skunkworks” teams. Why wouldn’t I want kids from my local colleges wearing my company gear around campus and home on the weekends to their parents?   More projects completed and walk-around advertising in exchange for extra hiring and coaching opportunities feels like a pretty good tradeoff. Perhaps most importantly, my company has exposed potential employees to our business culture and we become advocates for our graduates.

Skeptics of hiring college kids unite. It didn’t cross my mind till I saw a co-manager do it successfully and wondered why I wasn’t – so I hired my first and realized how fun it was. When I had an impossible data project that was going to take hundreds of hours, I turned it over to an intern who made me realize I was overcomplicating things. They efficiently solved it in excel. Interns think on their own and have a motor that doesn’t stop, especially when they’re given latitude. Moreover, they’re willing to take on tasks that are seemingly “too big” and “too hard.”

Interns also come equipped with professors and class projects that help guide some of their work. However, they do need coaching from mentors.  Since I’m short on UX experience, I have our current UX intern meet with our contract designer in a weekly check-in. Our customers love our new designs and flows and they’re confident we will continue to gather feedback and include them as we build software.

I understand that hiring and HR processes take time. To address this, I can only say hard things become easier the more often you do them. And your hiring won’t be the only thing you get to practice – coaching and communicating with varied personalities will ultimately improve you as a manager. Finally, it’s important to mention that going forward you will have a deeper pool of talent you can draw from. And maybe like Michael Scott, your employees will become your boss one day.

Humans yearn to learn, but it’s too easy to quit reading and building my knowledge base. Of course, that doesn’t change my confidence in my approach or my experience – “I’m certainly wiser than a college student.” Despite this, I’m no longer surprised when the student becomes the teacher. Many an Intern has brought varied experiences and backgrounds that have been a boon to one of my projects.

So, how do you hire your first intern? Find a project you don’t quite have time for. Get a little budget approved, they can typically work 20-30 hours/week, then put up an ad. Don’t give them busy work – it won’t last. Pay them something if at all possible; they’re hungry; plus, you’ll get better quality students. Lastly, invite them to your standups and set aside time each day to check in with them. Finally, give them access to others in the business.  I’m most passionate about hiring students to apprentice on my teams because they are anxious to solve whatever problem is put in front of them. And sometimes the problem is one I don’t even recognize. Plus, they’re a captive audience to listen to your stories while they’re creating their own.

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