Friday, 26 April 2019

Good Help Is Hard To Find - Tips When Hiring Interns

Good help is hard to find.

This is the third in a series of articles which will summarise my last half decade of hiring/outsourcing/offshoring experience as Head of Technology at the Cogworks.


I have taken on more than a few interns over the years, and it has generally been a positive experience for them and us. Hiring an intern can be both rewarding and a challenge, and you really need to be prepared, and know what you want an intern for. Typically our interns have been with us for 1-3 months.


I'll be absolutely transparent... Our motives for taking interns was to see if we could groom/screen them for hiring. If the person is really smart, hungry to learn, with a good attitude, then they could be a prime candidate for hiring.

We would give them some trivial tasks, some things to read, interact with them, and see how quickly they pick things up. Very often we would also give the intern a list of tutorials to do, so we can see how motivated they are, and how fast they learn.

A Learning Experience

Having interns is a great learning experience for your junior / mid-weight developers. It is a chance for them to do some mentoring of their own. This is a crucial skill as people progress in their careers. It thrusts your devs into becoming teachers, so they are forced to learn how to communicate better.

The caveat here is that you need to ensure that your staff are told to mentor, not whip-crack. 

Expect Nothing

Generally speaking, an intern has no experience and should not be relied on for any work. They are also not there to make coffee. They are there to learn. So you should be ready to teach.

We always give trivial tasks which are not really time dependent. These may be some updates to our website, or a tweak of a tool. We bring interns into all the daily routines and stand-ups. We even tag them on code reviews.

The key point is to expect zero productivity from them, and for them to probably be a bit of a time drain. If this is a problem then you really need to look at your motivations (see above).

Tips When Taking On Interns

1. Don't expect them to be useful or productive
   - Interns are not meant to be "used".

2. Give them some trivial work that has low time dependency and low risk

3. Give your junior & mid-weight developers the task of mentoring the intern
   - This is an opportunity for your devs to learn some mentoring skills

4. Have people communicate as much as possible with the intern
   - This is a great way to find out if they fit the company

Final Thoughts

Hiring an intern is a great experience for them and you. Your devs will get more experience in mentoring, and hopefully learn some soft skills.  Be prepared to consider interns as a time investment, because they will actually take your time. If you are really lucky, the intern will be super smart, and someone you want to hire as a graduate.

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