You probably don’t wake up every morning (or any morning for that matter) and think about how you need more 19-year-olds in your life or in order to effectively grow your business. But, maybe you should.
I have used college interns effectively to build two businesses and they have made a significant difference in the growth of each company.
When we started Sageworks, for example, we developed an artificial intelligence program to take financial numbers, analyze them and convert the analysis into language, which required writing approximately 10,000 pages of text (an eventful year and a half for me). Once written, I hired a plethora of college interns to edit the text. It was a cost-effective solution that was readily executed.
I’ve outlined five key advantages to hiring college students that you might consider if you’re looking to build your business.
1. They come with a lot of energy. I have found interns to be full of life and eager to learn. It may be that they’re younger and want to prove themselves and explore new things, but it’s also the case that the internship is not a full-time job for them so they don’t get into a rut. They can come in refreshed and energetic, do their work and then leave. I have found that they add tremendously to the culture of any company because of these attributes. Today, we still have a robust internship program that works very well for us.
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2. They are inexpensive. They don’t require benefits and most college interns are happy to make anywhere from $8 to $18 an hour, depending on where they live in the country. Since there are not a lot of overhead costs associated with hiring college students, the overall burdens and risks of using them are very low. Another fringe asset is that you can change schedules easily to accommodate your budget, which is likely to be tight if you’re a startup.
3. They come with fresh ideas. It is really true that young people have good ideas, in part because they come to problems from a position of naiveté, which is actually an asset. A few years ago, we were developing a probability-of-default model and the company decided to give the entire data-gathering component of the project to a team of college students, supervised by a full-time recent college grad. Sure, they can and did go off the mark a little bit, but with a minimal amount of management and oversight, their work over the course of a summer helped us develop a commercial-strength product remarkably quickly. The company put experienced quant and math people on the building of the model and allowed the kids to focus on the less technical work – but work that still allowed them to learn. In fact, they found some creative ways to get the data we required, ways that I’m not sure we would have ever thought of on our own.
4. Good interns turn out to be some of the best full-time employees. Again, this point may be obvious but it is important. Internships are not just a way of attracting full-time candidates; they’re a way of finding and hiring new full-time employees who are very familiar with your corporate culture. Our former interns tend to stay with our company longer because they were able to learn about the company before accepting full-time. In this way, an internship is a try-out period for both buyer and seller.
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5. They will accomplish the “unreasonable.” In our experience, the college kids (and even some high school kids) are not anchored to "normal" ranges so they can often bend what we think of as possible. Our experiences with this are too numerous to mention. Younger people don't yet have the limits that they eventually benchmark themselves to because they simply don't know what they are not capable of. On this note, it’s important to give interns meaningful work or even "big idea" projects. Many companies make the mistake of giving interns only rote activities, where the kids are doing boring, administrative, task-based work. This is done for obvious reasons, notably, that interns often don’t come with experience. Lack of experience is a good thing in many cases since less experienced people will be less anchored to what they think they should and shouldn’t be able to do. In addition to the intern’s direct, material impact on the company, giving kids projects that are slightly out of their reach excites them and gives them a real sense of meaning for being at the internship, which also feeds their energy.
How to manage college interns the right way is another topic altogether. As is always the case in life, people’s assets can also be their liabilities. College students come with a lot of energy but they do need some light management and guidance to make sure their energy is pointed generally in the right direction. It can be easy for them to fall into doing things that on paper may make sense but in reality don’t move the company toward getting something done. Because of their academic backgrounds, they tend to equate all work with meaningful work, which is definitely not always true. We’ve tried to give interns very clear objectives, suggestions for achieving those objectives and then meet once in a while to refine their activities to achieve those objectives.