Interns are a fantastic resource for companies of all shapes and sizes to take advantage of. Whether you're a team of 2 or 200, hiring an intern can be a fantastic way to reach your business goals faster, and grow your team with a lower risk compared to hiring a full time staff member. However, not all internship opportunities are created equal, and interns aren't always the best fit for every company.
Here at Techintern.io, we find smart young developers for the companies we work with. In particular, we specialize in technical roles such as full stack development, design, product management, and so on. We've compiled this document as a central hub about when a technical intern could be the right fit for your organization, so you can better decide whether hiring one is worth pursuing (we think it usually is)! We'll be covering:
- Reasons to hire technical interns
- Reasons not to hire technical interns
- Examples of successful internships collected by Techintern.io
- Common misconceptions about interns & their abilities
- Further resources on hiring and managing successful intern projects
Interested? Well, let's begin!
Reasons to hire Technical Interns
Hiring interns has its pros and cons. As a technical internship hiring company, we're certainly biased towards more companies engaging with the internship process, and we're not ashamed of it! We're excited to share how interns could be a great fit for your business, and why we believe in them so strongly. Some of the main reasons you may want to hire an intern include:
- You want to convert a student to a full-time hire, and have proof of their excellence
- You want to trial an expansion of your team and culture, with lower risk compared to full-time hires
- You have a clearly defined task or project for a given period.
1. You want to convert a student to a full-time hire.
Internships at their core are self-contained opportunities for students to engage with companies for the sake of showcasing and improving their skills. This means as a company, an internship is the perfect way to determine which junior level hires are worth bringing on for full-time employment and which not to. By bringing on a student for an internship, you're actively creating the ideal environment to test the student on how they'd perform at your company if they were to join later on, because they're in the work environment!
In terms of making a successful evaluation, the best interns are self motivated, great learners, and are consistently engaged with the mission of the company. As a young developer or other technically skilled worker, having the motivation to work with your company's mission can make them an extremely powerful proponent of your company and culture. This means that even if an intern isn't as technically strong as a full-time hire, they can have an impact on the team that pushes the entire organization further.
2. You want to test-run your culture as you grow.
As short term hires, interns are a great way for a company to test out how a team's culture and values shift over time. The self-contained timeline of internships work great for this, as if things move in a direction that you aren't happy with, it's only an internship! If things go splendidly, it's definitely worth making an effort to convince them to return for full-time, and to offer them to continue working with you in the future. This could be in part-time contracts over the course of their schooling, or offering them a return internship for a subsequent year.
In general, the risk to your overall company culture is much lower with an intern compared to a full time hire. It also gives you more information on how your culture will change with more people, as opposed to completely outsourcing work with a contracting agency or freelancer.
3. You have a clearly defined task or project for a given period.
Speaking of contracting work, the last major reason to hire an intern is if you have a clearly defined task for a given time period. Interns are fantastic hires, and come in a variety of skill levels. The most skilled interns can be skilled enough to work as independent contractors in their own right, beyond needing guidance from you as a more junior intern would. This means that hiring a skilled intern can be a great replacement to finding a contractor or development agency, as it gives you the benefits of potentially bringing the intern on for a full-time position later, while using a similar evaluation system for skillset.
If you're looking for examples of successful internship projects like this, we've got a full section on this down below.
Reasons not to hire Technical Interns
Just as internships can be a great way to expand your company with a young, motivated worker, it's important to understand what situations aren't a great fit for an intern. Some of the most common reasons why companies consider internships a failure for themselves include:
- You're expecting senior talent for cheap.
- You don't have bandwidth to provide direction or guidance.
- You don't have specific contained projects for an intern to work on independently.
1. Expecting senior talent for cheap.
The number one reason why we hear internships go poorly is a mismatch in expectations by the company, and what the intern can deliver. Make no mistake, interns are by their very nature junior level candidates, with potentially some on the cusp of senior status. Even within internship candidates, there's a diverse range of experience in the applicants that you'll receive. It's important to both acknowledge that you are looking at a junior level hire, and to expect to pay according to the specific candidate's experience.
You should expect to spend less money on average on an intern compared to a full-time hire, however every intern has their own level of experience and it's important to adjust your salary negotiations with that in mind, especially when competing against other companies for the same talent.
2. You don't have bandwidth to provide direction or guidance.
Interns are junior level hires, and do require more guidance in their role compared to more senior candidates. Even if you do hire an intern who is well versed in their skillset, the intent of an internship from a student side is still to gather valuable knowledge and work experience. It's important for any company that is looking to hire an intern to make sure that they have a plan for what both the company and the intern will receive from the employment experience going in, and that all parties understand what the plan entails. After all, it's a learning experience in the end, no matter how much autonomy the intern is capable of. If you're looking for specific tips and guidelines on how to run a successful internship program, do check out our guide here.
3. You don't have specific contained projects for an intern to work on independently.
The final reason we hear internships don't work out is due to a lack of planning on the company's side, especially around what the intern is intended to work on during their tenure. As interns are junior level hires, it's important for a company to design a structure for the internship, so that the intern doesn't need to repeatedly onboard onto new pieces of the product. This increases the amount of management and mentorship that they require, which may result in a net-negative in terms of work accomplished by your team overall.
However, this can be mitigated to a large extent by keeping the intern's tasks closely related to a specific piece of the product, or to tasks that make use of a common skillset. An engineering related example could be having the intern work exclusively on database applications, as opposed to branching out into architecting new services or doing frontend work. That isn't to say interns can't have a more generalist experience, but to keep their existing skillsets and the time it'll take them to pick things up in mind when designing a successful internship program.
Examples of Successful Internships
Here at Techintern.io, we work with a variety of companies to help them find great candidates for their internship positions. Here's a few examples of projects that interns hired through us have worked on in the past. If you'd like to read more, we have a full student showcase series on our blog here.
Rewriting search autocomplete with 150 million objects to decrease runtime by 80%
A business intelligence platform hired a tech intern who was tasked with upgrading their search product. This intern revamped the search system to decrease query time from 6+ seconds to under 1 second each, and added support for autocomplete while doing so.
We worked with Qtum to help them hire an intern for the winter 2021 term, who contributed directly to one of their core development initiatives as an open source blockchain company. This work is highlighted in particular, because it is open source.
Reworking internal tooling to expand AB-testing scope
One of our larger company partners hired an intern during the Winter 2021 term to create comprehensive internal tooling to automatically enable and disable feature flags for their customers. This included adding changelogs, configuration managers, and other product switches through an internal approval system, all implemented on a dynamoDB core. The system regularly processes feature requests for millions of dollars of transactions a day.
We've got more examples like this coming soon on our blog, so keep your eyes peeled!
Common Misconceptions About Interns
Now that we've talked about some of the reasons why you should and shouldn't hire interns, there are some misconceptions about internships that we want to help dispel. The 4 most common ones that we run into include:
- Interns are too junior to be effective in my company.
- Interns take too long to become productive.
- Interns are only available during the summer.
- There's no guarantee that an intern is a good long term investment for my company.
Let's break these down.
"Interns are too junior to be effective in my company."
Interns being too junior to effectively contribute is the most common misconception we hear. This can be true, but it strongly depends on the skill level of the intern that you hire, and the projects that you assign them.
Internship candidates come in a variety of different skill levels. On the lower end, you can have applicants in their first year of university or attempting to find their first internship. These students benefit from a more mentorship based approach, and do require more guidance to make sure they can contribute effectively. It's commonly these candidates that companies refer to when they say that interns are too junior to be effective.
However, not all interns are necessarily junior. On the higher end of intern skillsets, there are intern candidates that have multiple years of work experience under their belt. These candidates are often closer to graduation, have entrepreneurial experience, or have had past positions at industry giants. They're usually confident in their abilities (with good reason), and can absolutely be fantastic contributors to your business with minimal guidance and direction - similar to an independent contractor. If you'd like to see some examples of these top candidates, feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com or check out some examples of their work here.
Hiring each of these types of students has its own pros and cons, which we'll cover in our later sections.
"Interns take too long to become productive."
The second misconception that we commonly hear is that "interns take too long to become productive." There is definitely some truth to this, however the reality is more nuanced.
Just as internship candidates come with a variety of different skill levels, so too do internship projects and their corresponding skill requirements. A project that requires an intern to have highly domain-specific knowledge about blockchain transactions in order to contribute will almost always have a higher ramp up time compared to creating a small frontend with create-react-app, unless you hire specifically for that skillset. Similarly, a project that is well documented with contribution guides and mentorship will be easier to effectively develop on compared to one that has zero guides on where things are, and how to meet merge requirements. In short, interns will take longer to ramp up on projects that don't match their skillset, and on projects that are poorly documented. These are inherent issues in every onboarding program.
With that being said, interns can be a great way to iron our your onboarding program. We've seen interns become effective contributors within 2 weeks when given reasonable documentation, and daily pair programming sessions for the first few days. This helps them address any gaps in their knowledge of your business sooner, while also pointing out what's missing in your onboarding process overall. If you'd like to learn more about specific tips to get them contributing faster, we have a small technical guide here.
In short, an intern's onboarding speed all depends on the effectiveness of the onboarding program, and the amount of support that they're given.
"Interns are only available during the summer."
This is a small one, but still worth addressing! Interns are available in all terms. Although summer is the season with the most students applying, there are students who look for internships in every season. In fact, because larger companies often only have established summer internship programs, winter and fall internships see more skilled candidates diversifying their application pool. If you're interested in internship recruiting at any point in the year, we're happy to help here at Techintern.io.
"There's no guarantee that an intern is a good long term investment for my company."
This is the final argument we hear most commonly against interns, and it's true! Just like not every worker will be a good long term investment for your company, so too will interns. There are internships that don't work out, or students that choose not to return to your company for a full time position after their internship.
These are very real potential outcomes of hiring an intern, which may not be a good for the long term health of your company. However, we believe that the benefits outweigh the costs. As an employer, there are many different ways to run an internship program, and different things you can experiment with to get better control over the final outcome. For more specific tips on how to run an effective internship program, check out our small guide here.
Finally, interns can be a lower risk way of growing your company, and testing where you want things to go. By hiring an intern, you can get a sense of where your company/team will look like as it matures, and get a better sense of the culture and relationships within the organization. Every hire will be a risk - we think that interns are a great way to get a sneak peek at the reward.
- interns can be a great fit for any company
- not every situation is the best fit
- they're talented, and can bring real value to your business
- if you want to hire an intern, talk to us