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This article was published on October 14, 2018

The pros and cons of interning at a startup

The pros and cons of interning at a startup
David Lloyd
Story by

David Lloyd

CEO, The Intern Group

David Lloyd is the CEO of The Intern Group, an award-winning organization that places students in international internships. David Lloyd is the CEO of The Intern Group, an award-winning organization that places students in international internships.

When researching what it’s like to intern at a startup, the majority of responses are positive. Startup interns can get real-world experience and take on tasks that corporate interns (or even corporate entry-level positions) typically do not do.

There are many perks to interning at a startup, but the startup world is not for everyone. There are certain things to prepare for when working at a startup, such as working remotely and not having a traditional HR person to go to for training.

For those considering interning at a startup, this article will guide you through the good and bad qualities you need to know about this position.

Starting with the benefits, interns have a lot to gain from working in a startup. Here are some of the main advantages:

Gain real experience

Startup interns have a lot of responsibility and get an inside look at what it takes to get a company up and running. Since there are typically not many paid employees at early-stage startups, interns are treated as regular employees and are given real-world tasks.

While there are some “intern” tasks of running errands, most startups offer interns responsibilities of full-time employees.

Access to all employees

Interns at a corporate firm will likely not meet the CEO, but this is not true at a startup. Interns have access to high-level employees and outside contacts as well, which means excellent networking opportunities when the internship ends.

Interns that perform well may receive a recommendation from a C-suite executive, which is a powerful tool for the job hunt.

Test multiple skill sets

Whereas larger companies split interns between sectors, startups can’t really do this, which means an intern might work with the marketing, finance, IT, and sales team.

While this may be hectic for some, interns can try out different skills sets and learn about all sides of a company. This is beneficial for interns who do not know exactly what they want to do after graduation because they can figure out their likes and dislikes.

Feedback on personal projects

Startup interns gain real insight into entrepreneurship and can apply this to their own projects. Many interns at startups have their own projects that they’d like to get off the ground.

In addition to the many contacts, startup interns can bounce ideas off of the internal team (as long as the idea is not a competitor). Interns can get feedback and pointed in the right direction on personal projects, which is extremely valuable for early-stage projects.

What are the cons?

There are some aspects of interning at a startup to be aware of before the start date.

Steep learning curve

Startups are incredibly fast-paced, and employees are always expected to work hard. Interns are thrown into the mix, which is wonderful for some individuals who thrive in this environment.

For those who want more guidance, however, it’s not always a great fit. There is a steep learning curve for startup work, so interns are expected to catch up quickly and without taking too much time away from full-time staff.

Low job security

For interns expecting a job offer at the end of their time, a startup might not be the best place. There are many statistics about startup failure; some quote it at 90 percent, others say it’s about 50 percent, either way, startup success is hard to find.

A startup may not have a position open at the end of the internship, or the company may go under or lose funding at any point, so it’s important to consider that before starting an internship.

Pay and HR concerns

Roughly 82 percent of startup funds come from the entrepreneur, friends, or family. With limited funds come limited payment, so interns are often unpaid or paid very little. At corporate startups, this might not be the case. A Purdue University student organized intern payments from tech companies, which you can find here.

Another potential con is that most startups do not have an organized HR person, which means interns must find their own professional development opportunities.

While corporate interns typically complete a capstone project, startup interns are left to train themselves. Startup interns have to find online trainings to help move their skills forward, whereas many corporate interns have a designated HR person to help them with this.

Must add value

Again, since resources are extremely valuable at a startup, every employee, paid or not, must add value. For interns who want to stay on the team, they sometimes need to figure out how to add value to the company.

If an intern at a corporate firm doesn’t add value to the company, this might fly under the radar; however, at a startup, those who do not add value are easily seen and are not needed on the team.

It’s not to say that a startup intern who does not have a unique skill will be fired, but adding value is an essential aspect of the startup world on every level.

Make considerations before interning anywhere

Before embarking on an internship, it’s vital to think about the pros and cons of the position. An internship is an excellent way to gain experience in different job settings, and a startup internship gives an in-depth look into the world of entrepreneurship, for those that want it.

Always try to find past intern reviews of a company and ask many questions during an interview so that you understand the job responsibilities and opportunities that the position offers.

A startup internship can be extremely valuable, but keep in mind that this type of internship is not for everyone and remember the pros and cons before signing on with a startup team.

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