For small businesses owners, hiring an intern can be a huge benefit to your company if you get the right person. Rajeeb Dey, founder of specialist internship & graduate jobs company Enternships.com, shares his advice on finding the right intern, who  might just be able to help take your business to the next level.

That post title got your attention, right? Well read on and you will find out how one intern did precisely that.

Start-ups and small-businesses provide an ideal environment for graduates to learn and get stuck into a whole array of activities and this is one of the reasons I launched Enternships.com: to provide a platform for the millions of start-ups and small businesses out there which don’t have the brand awareness nor the graduate recruitment teams to go and directly engage with universities to hire interns or graduates.

Having started the venture whilst studying at Oxford University as a simple listing site just for Oxford students, to date we have helped over 6,000 start-ups and fast growing businesses connect to over 45,000 talented students and graduates for internships and full-time job opportunities.

There are big advantages for both the intern and the small business. In a small company you are less likely to be pigeon-holed into doing one particular task and often get direct exposure to the Founder/CEO of a company which provides an amazing opportunity to develop and make your mark in a business. For the company it provides the opportunity to bring on bright and dynamic young talent eager to make an impression and provide a fresh perspective on your business challenges.

Start-ups looking to attract the very best talent however need to make themselves attractive to candidates too. Whilst they may not have the brand awareness of a Google or McKinsey, we advise small businesses to focus on what differentiates themselves from the large corporations – this includes conveying their passion and their personality in the way they phrase their job listing, whether that’s on Enternships or elsewhere.

We know that start-ups cannot compete on salaries but instead they often provide cool perks such as ping-pong tables, free drinks, food and flexible working practices. Generation Y are increasingly attracted by the opportunity to make an impact and the flexibility provided by working in a smaller, less bureaucratic organisation than focusing solely on the salary they will get so use this to your advantage.

Be less fixated on the intern’s grades or institutions and more interested in their passion and how much they really know about your business and what you do. The people I’ve hired at Enternships have mainly been due to the entrepreneurial spark and attitude rather than where they have come from or what they’ve done. I’m more interested in seeing where they can go.

As a small company ourselves, we know that hiring can be hard. In many cases it’s the first time someone has hired anyone else and they often don’t have dedicated HR personnel, which is why we try to offer as much advice as possible to companies via online, social and our Enternships blog, where you can read our guide to hiring an intern and how to handle the interview process.

The most successful internship programmes we see by far are ones where the expectations are clearly set out from the start. For the candidate, they will want to know what they are expected to do and whether there is any realistic prospect of the internship converting into a full-time job, so try and be as clear about this from the outset, from the moment you post your job-description, to avoid difficulties later.

It is important you set aside time to plan what you would like the intern to do, provide them with some initial training to get them up to speed and a mentor or buddy who they can ask for guidance. Ultimately its about getting the very best out of the intern so that they can perform at their best and add the most value to your business whilst also developing themselves.

One of the best examples we’ve seen of where an internship has worked spectacularly has been at one of our long standing clients – Mint Digital. Back in the early days of Enternships they hired a ‘super intern’ in the form of Kejia Zhu who ended up becoming a indispensable to the business and developed a new product for them called Stickygram (Instagram photos on magnets.) Stickygram a few years later was spun out of Mint Digital and sold to Photobox for millions.

Mint Digital have gone on to formalise their internship scheme called The Foundry to facilitate more interns to come and innovate and launch new ventures and we’ve been delighted to continue to work with them to find talent on the new ventures they are spinning out such as Boomf (Instagram photos on marshmallows… are you seeing a trend here?)

Now, admittedly, not every intern will turn out to be the success story of Kejia but the principles of what made that happen can still be applied – by giving your intern freedom to innovate, encouraging them to bring their own ideas to the table and to be seen as something far more than the ‘tea or coffee person’ you too might just be unlocking a multi-million pound idea.

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Rajeeb Dey (@rajdey) is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Enternships.com, a portal that connects students and graduates to internships and graduate jobs in over 6000 start-ups and SMEs, and develops innovative corporate talent programmes for clients such as Telefonica, Santander and Havas for which he was named the “02 X Young Entrepreneur of the Year” in 2009, the world’s youngest Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum in 2012 and the youngest recipient of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion in 2013.

Watch Raj’s own start-up story in our Hiscox Small Business Stars film.

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