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How to Quickly Onboard Interns in a Startup

Posted by Rod Danan | Jun 04, 2020

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When bringing on any new teammate to your team, there are going to be growing pains. They will have to learn about your company's product, culture, systems, and a bunch of other smaller things that might slip through the cracks.

Interns are doubly hard because they are part-time and are most likely inexperienced in the role they are interning in. It might seem scary but part one of our Internship Handbook will help you get the most out of your intern. Read below how to make the first week a building block for a great internship.

Communicating Culture

Building company culture is vital to a strong organization. Interviews give a first glimpse into what company culture is like but it is important to communicate culture effectively early on in a new teammate's tenure. 

It's tough to build something as comprehensive as Netflix's culture guidelines, but at the minimum, have your values ready. Give your intern a list of these values and explain why each one is important.  You can reinforce these values by having a "value of the week" and ask the intern to share how they embodied that value during that week. For other ideas on instilling company values, check out this article

The next part of communicating your company culture is explaining your systems. Do people have to go through levels of management or can they just message the CEO freely? Do you want to use specific software for communication, project management, or other collaboration? Write out all the different tools that you expect an intern to use along with how to use those tools. A system is only as good as its guidelines.

The final part of company culture comes from the people themselves. Since culture is a collective attitude that comes from all the people in a company, you can accelerate onboarding by introducing the intern to as many teammates as possible. Set up 15-30 minute meetings informal meetings where they can learn about the different departments of the company. Not only with this help with culture but it will also instill a sense of belonging for the intern. This will do wonders for their motivation and, in turn, your company.

Focus on Learning - Not Output

Making time to align on expectations in the first week will make all the other weeks run smoothly. First expectation: accept that the intern will not be producing actual work during the first week

Companies bringing on interns usually need help with accelerating a project of some sort but jumping the gun here will hurt both sides. As mentioned before, culture is a huge thing to communicate and for them to start on any task without understanding that first can lead to tragic results. This applies to developers, data scientists, and designers equally.

Instead, this first week should focus on educating and testing your new tech intern. Have them read articles about your industry and takes notes on questions in your knowledge base. Set them up with a test account to try out your product so they can understand how it works - and maybe they come up with some ideas to improve it. 

Don't assume they did all this either. Give them an informal test at the end of the first week to see where their level of knowledge is at. Ask them about what they learned. If they missed something you think is important, bring it up to them as an area of focus. 

Make It A Conversation

Truly successful internships happen from open dialogue. Get to know your intern on both a personal and professional level. Don't forget to share information about yourself with them too. You will be their mentor for the next 3 months and being comfortable with each other prevents miscommunication.

Schedule a weekly meeting time to hop on video for 30 minutes. Interns' schedules will probably not align directly with yours since they might have a full-time job so keep that in mind. During this meeting, be prepared to answer questions and give feedback on their performance. Outside of this meeting, it's probably best to enable them to chat with you on your tool of choice (e.g. Microsoft Teams, Slack, etc.). 

From these conversations, you might find that there is a specific area of interest the intern has. If at all possible, try to think of a plan that would allow them to get exposure to this area. For example, you could have a software developer intern converting designs to HTML/CSS for 6 weeks and then start giving them some QA duties. Your intern will appreciate the effort and work even harder to make your life easier. 

Summary

  • Communicate Culture
    • Give them a list of values and explain why each one is important.
    • Clearly outline your work system and the tools that make it run
    • Schedule meetings for your intern with other company employees
  • Focus on Learning
    • Your intern will not produce work the first week
    • Have them do their own research on your industry
    • Give them credentials to test our your product
    • Test them on their knowledge to make sure they understand
  • Make It a Conversation
    • Get to know your intern and let them know you
    • Set up at least one meeting time per week to get on video with each other
    • Try to squeeze their interests into their workload


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Test Your Intern & Embrace The Mentor Role

During the first week, you should have taught your intern the 20% that would allow them to do 80% of what they need to do at your company. A test project allows you to measure how well they understood your teachings.

Posted by Rod Danan | Jun 12, 2020