Choosing the right interns to join your early stage startup

There are more than 1 million babies as a result of the Erasmus+ enabled mobility of young European students and graduates. Spending a semester abroad has been one of the key selling points of the programme. Working for a startup in another EU country, on the other hand, probably has less lasting effects on your private life, but might be a game-changer for your career.

I myself never benefited from Erasmus+ during my studies in Berlin. Being an early stage startup founder, however, does make the idea of having young interns seem quite compelling. Choosing the Erasmus+ candidates pool to be our main source of generating applications turned out to be one of the best decisions we made this summer — here’s why.

Easy application process, access to grants

What we feared most before we started looking for summer interns was that the processes of screening, interviewing and onboarding the new team members will be more time-consuming than not having interns in the first place. We had a clear idea of the “job description” and were determined to make it look “as awesome as possible”.

You’ll be surprised how easy the whole selection process could be once you design the right structure. The Erasmus+ website already had plenty of basic information about each candidate, leaving us the possibility to ask for additional details or to assign tasks testing the candidate’s skills and motivation to apply. After an extra round where we gave the best candidates the chance to show creativity and passion about our mission, we were able to select a few final applicants who we interviewed.

And what worked out great are the grants that the selected interns receive from Erasmus+, covering their trip, accommodation and expenses during the internship period. All we, as a hosting company, had to do is sign an Internship agreement. Kudos to the Erasmus+ programme for making the process so easy!

“What’s in it for them?

Most young interns are looking for programs that enable them to bond with other interns, learn from more experienced team members at the company, and more. We were highly motivated to enhance the intern’s time at ClaimCompass with activities outside the workplace: we organized weekend team building trips around Bulgaria and went to startup and leisure events together.

What I’ll always keep in mind is the feedback one of our interns, Thomas, gave to me after the final interview: “You were trying to sell me the company and the position as much as I was trying to convince you I’m the right fit.”

Learning how to hire and manage

Ever read one of those here’s-how-to-hire-someone books? Most startup founders are obsessed with the idea of getting everything right from the first try — how do we close the first sales deal, how do we fundraise, how do we decide on what the perfect new team member looks like.

For ClaimCompass, it has already been 9 months since we launched and we felt the moment is right for us to start experimenting with fresh additions to the core team. We relied upon our observations of previous experiences from projects, and advice from other founders and mentors.

Now that the first batch of interns is “graduating”, we can all agree that we learned as much from this experience as they did. Designing the new organizational structure, having the performance of others in mind, giving and accumulating feedback, communicating your vision in everyday tasks — this was a real “management in practice” lesson for the founding team that we highly appreciate.

A take away from this post? I believe the better the experience you provide to your interns, the more value you will obtain from them in return.