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Want To Boost Your Startup? Hire Interns

In a highly competitive job market like Dubai, talented and motivated students are turning to internships to gain some experience to land a job. Tech companies like Google and Microsoft have recognised internships as a strategic tool for recruitment and mining of human resources. Local start-ups should take their lead; when done right, internships can propel start-up growth. Internships can be leveraged to address three objectives: • Creating an ecosystem of employable workers with a start-up mindset. • Establishing ties with the local community (who may be your user base or clients). • Acting as an effective system of recruitment. Start-ups who view interns as cheap labor will get just that, cheap labor that adds no value to the overall business. For interns to add value, they must be assigned meaningful tasks and be properly trained and instructed on these tasks. In other words, start-ups must invest time and effort into their interns. This summer,, a start-up, ran an internship programme for four youths in Dubai, ranging from 17 to 25 years of age. Melltoo is a social network for buyers and sellers, likened to Facebook for classifieds. Users can buy and sell a variety of products on Melltoo, including used cars, baby items, and mobile devices. In addition, Melltoo has a property rental section as well. Each of our interns was recruited to LEAD the content marketing for one product vertical. In order to maximise the month-long internship, we spent a week working on an implementation plan. We structured the programme like a college course with the intention that it would be replicated with a future group of interns as well as full-fledged employees.Each product vertical on the Melltoo marketplace has a different audience, so we recruited interns who have some affinity to the target audience and assigned each one accordingly. Step 1: Setting Objectives: This is the most important step. As a company, you must know what you hope to achieve with your interns, but be sure to align this with what is possible given the constraints of time and ability. These will also set the tone and expectations so interns know what they are getting themselves into. Be specific when setting objectives. Instead of saying: “Increase user base,” say: “Increase user base by five per cent.” Step 2: Plan tasks to achieve objectives: To help your interns jump right in, processes should be broken down into bite-sized tasks. Tasks should be assigned in logical sequence and lead to achievement of objectives. Each task should have deliverables and/or metrics for measuring success. One of the first tasks for our interns was to research their target audience. Task instructions described the behaviour of the target audience, suggested places to find them and gave examples of deliverables. Deliverables included a spreadsheet detailing research findings and a presentation at our weekly team meeting where other members provided feedback. Step 3: Create detailed task instructions: Task instructions should be in a retrievable format. In other words, whether instructions are written, a screencast video, or a presentation, interns should be able to refer back to them. Instructions should be sufficiently detailed such that interns are able to work off them independently, but do take time to go over them anyway and to answer questions and clarify meaning. Interns lack experience and will need sufficient support before they can work independently. Documented instructions pre-empt the need to explain repeatedly. Hence, put some effort into the instructions and make sure everyone has access to it whenever they need. Step 4: Make sure you have an efficient communications platform: Emails are not efficient when there are many people collaborating. At Melltoo, we have a general chat-based communications platform for day-to-day communications (Slack). We use the cloud for file-sharing (Google Drive and Dropbox). We also use a project management tool for collaboration (Asana). Email is for long-form content and is used infrequently. We take communications very seriously because miscommunication is costly. Spend time onboarding interns on the way you communicate and collaborate; this will save time in the long run.Step 5: Recruitment, Onboarding, and Compensation: Look at steps 1 through 4 and make 3 lists. 1. Skills interns should have before the internship. 2. Information that interns need to be given in order to start work. 3. Skills interns will acquire during the internship. Recruit interns based on List 1. Recruit carefully. In addition to skills, pay special attention to motivation and willingness to learn. Create an onboarding workshop based on List 2. Don’t expect interns to read your mind, they are new to the company. What may be obvious to you probably isn’t to them. “Pay” your interns based on List 3. I’m not saying you shouldn’t pay interns money, but what they should gain from their internship should be more than just money. They have to leave you with what money cannot buy—experience. Start-ups should leverage internships as a tool for growth. With proper guidance, interns can be the engine for start-up growth. The team is crucial; start-ups should invest in training a pool of employable workers who can contribute to the ecosystem. In the interim, start-ups struggling to find the right people have it in their best interest to train inexperienced interns to bring value to the business. And what better way to understand your users and customers than to incorporate them into your ranks. When all is said and done, if you’ve done your job right, the intern today may become a valuable team member tomorrow, all the more loyal and passionate because you gave him/her a chance.

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