How To Recruit The Best College Interns for Your Start-up or Small Business


The college intern: a motivated hardworking student looking to prove himself (or herself) and willing to go the extra mile just to make a good impression, often for little or no monetary compensation. For the start-up, the intern is a godsend. It allows them to get a temporary but highly motivated employee, who is often times more interested in being compensated with experiences and connections than a salary. Unfortunately for start-ups, recruiting top talent from the internship pool can be a difficult process as the best and brightest are looking for internships with well known Fortune 500 companies such as Google or Microsoft. Hence, in order to succeed in the “internship game” a start-up must present an opportunity that no large corporation can offer. In this post I will outline what college students are looking for in internships and what small start-up companies can offer to make their positions more appealing when compared to those available at much larger firms.

As a little background, my name is Aditya Mahesh and I am currently a sophomore at UC Berkeley. Like nearly every other college student on the Berkeley campus and campuses across the nation, I spend the six months leading up to summer break searching and interviewing for various internship positions from across the globe. While most internship related articles are focused on providing the student with help securing an internship, I would like to turn the tables and tell start-ups what students are looking for and how they can land “top-talent” interns. The advice in this article is based on my own personal experience and information I gathered from interviews with dozens of other students from universities across the United States ranging from MIT to Stanford.

Prove the Start-Up

The biggest concerns college students have with accepting positions in start-ups are issues with credibility. Why would a student reject an internship with a well-known company to accept one with a no-name start-up? Hence, the most important thing a start-up can do is prove why it will be successful and why the student should want to get involved. A good concept and high sales projections are no longer enough.

One of the most important indicators of credibility for interns is the management team. Try to highlight the previous successes of the founders and executives of the company. Raising investment, even if it is just seed capital, from investors who have had “hits” in the past is also another great way to show credibility. Start-ups should be sure to highlight relationships they have with well known individuals, organizations, and corporations.

Give Interns Leadership Positions

“Leadership” is a huge buzzword when it comes to job applications and interns are all too well aware of this. They desperately want leadership positions to showcase on their resumes after graduation. Hence, one advantage start-ups have over larger companies is that it is easier for them to delegate more responsibility and give interns the opportunity to lead others.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to create internship programs where interns have a very specific task and give interns the resources they need to complete this task. For example, if it is the interns job to develop an online marketing campaign to promote the launch of a new section of the website, say the company blog, give the intern time with employees from the creative department, the software development department, and the content creation department to complete the task. Hence, the intern can say that he led a diverse team from various departments to reach a specific target goal, while all departments have some input on the final project and the entire process can be supervised by someone in management.

Numbers related to Growth

In a resume, numbers are VERY VERY important. Interns are looking for opportunities where they can prove some quantitative results. Hence, while it is difficult for start-up companies to compete with larger firms on raw numbers (ex. Helped developed and worked on a $50 million marketing campaign for Microsoft vs. $50,000 marketing campaign for start-up A), start-ups have a great advantage over larger corporation when it comes to statistics related to growth (helped increase traffic to the website by 30% or tripled subscription rate for company newsletter).

Immediate Job Opportunity

While college students know that internships are a great way to make connections to secure a job in the future, start-up companies have the flexibility to offer immediate part-time employment. Potential interns will look far more favorably on a program which offers the opportunity for part-time employment after the internship is complete and the fall semester begins.

Very few large corporations offer such programs; it is chiefly in start-ups where this opportunity exists. Hence, the interview can act as sort of a “job interview” for immediate employment.

Allow Students to Network

Students who consider accepting positions in up and coming start-ups are often times very entrepreneurially minded and hope to start their own business. They know that in the business world it is all about who you know and are looking to build new relationships and make new connections.

Hence start-ups present an opportunity since they allow interns to be close to the people involved with starting a business and getting it off the ground. Allowing entrepreneurial interns to see the inner workings of actually starting and growing a business and giving them the opportunity to network with fellow entrepreneurs and venture capitalists/investors is a great way to attract the attention of top students.

This post was written by Aditya Mahesh, founder of, a complete resource for entrepreneurs complete with advice articles, start-up profiles, interviews, news analysis, and more.