Are interns worthwhile?


Derek's question inspired another question... for a small startup (bigger than a one-man shop, but less than a dozen) are interns worthwhile?

In my experience, I've run into a few issues:

  • Recruiting - you'd think, with having our office basically on campus and offering flexible work hours and decent pay, we'd get the pick of the litter, right? Not so much - the big companies snap 'em up and sucker 'em in, so we have to work hard to recruit.
  • Cost - obviously, you have to pay them; figure $2000-$3000/month after tax, etc.
  • Training - this is the big one; there's just so much up-front work that goes into getting them started and watching over them throughout
  • Quality - their work isn't always top-notch, which means they can't be client-facing, etc.

What have your experiences been? Have you found them to be a value or hinderance?

Interns Employees

asked Oct 13 '09 at 12:10
Alex Papadimoulis
5,901 points

9 Answers


I am not a lawyer, and you would need to check this: But interns (in the US) don't have to be paid as long as their work experience is going to be help them in their career and as long as you don't promise them a full-time position as a condition to working for you.

Getting interns are helpful for many reasons:

  • Internships can be a great extended interview.
  • Interns can help provide a different perspective. I often take a stab at something important and have them take a go at it. This works well as I can easily figure out what the wholes in the work are.
  • Hiring interns badly has helped me understand what I need to do to hire better. If you are going to make mistakes hiring, why not start them for a short time?
answered Oct 13 '09 at 13:31
1,080 points


My answer is both yes and no.

If you are already so busy and no time for interns, maybe put it off until next year.

But interns do bring:

1) Fresh and new ideas, approaches, perspective.

2) Can help with little tasks that are just plain time consuming, but also they still can learn

3) Cost. Yeah, sometimes they can take classes and get college credit instead of pay.

4) I like to give back to the community, help someone out.

They often can be quick learners, so yeah, it is not always a lot of extra work.

answered Oct 13 '09 at 14:25
Derek Beda
221 points


I don't think you have to pay for interns...some are willing to work for free. I agree with anup, eager interns do contribute to the company with their enthusiasm and "can do" attitude. If there's no shortage of gopher work, hire an intern.

I hired a group of CS Masters students to contribute to our startup, and they did write some great code and learned a lot along the way. One was even a great candidate if I was in a position to hire. But overall, I believe a lot of the time was wasted as my salaried employee ended up re-writing most of the important code anyhow.

It really depends on your situation. If you find an intern with the right qualities and at the right price, you can probably benefit from adding them to your team.

answered Oct 13 '09 at 13:18
1,057 points


I think about it as helping someone learn and experience a career beyond school. So absolutely yes. People are not just numbers. If you are overwhelmed and need some help, find one. If you are so overwhelmed where you dont have the time this month, perhaps think about it next month, but never give up on helping others also make dreams a reality.

answered Oct 15 '09 at 03:16
106 points


Absolutely. I was one...twice. The first time I took a job with a big company was last summer, and I'm certainly not doing that again. I was damn cheap back in high school for what I was doing, but they took a big risk on me. Most CS students aren't really ready for a real job, but look for ones with open source experience and maybe a finished personal project or two. I see it as a long interview, so if you do better than break even on the intern's work, you're way ahead.

answered Oct 13 '09 at 12:24
50 points


Interns always provide a 'fresh' perspective to things.

One of the key things I notices from observing the interns at my previous place was that they were 'eager' to do things and in their 'eagerness' they tended to hurry and make mistakes. But this was initially. However, most of them are quick to learn.

When you infuse 'eager' Interns into a company their enthusiasm helps improve the environment of a company. Plus you could use them to do stuff which other 'seniors's are not ready to do :)

answered Oct 13 '09 at 12:32
547 points


I feel that they need more mentoring and "looking after" than a fully hired employee would, but that overall they are worth it. As others mentioned above, they bring a fresh perspective on things, have a good attitude and can turn out to be your next employee without having any recruitment costs.

answered Oct 14 '09 at 00:32
121 points


I've heard good things about using interns to perform non-paying but company related work. A friend of mine with a web design company uses interns to perform his company's pro-bono work for example.

answered Oct 29 '09 at 20:57
Steve French
621 points


What kind of business are you running, and what would you have the interns do?

There is another hidden cost to hiring interns, and that is the management focus they require. Since they have no experience, and they need to be watched over, they keep you busy and focused on them rather then the things you need to get done. This is not a huge problem for a huge company, since there are enough people around to make it work out. In a small company, if one person needs to spend time doing something other then work, then that means that 10% of your workforce is not being productive.

You also need to take into account the time you spend interviewing potential interns, and keep in mind that they are only going to work for you for a few months if everything works out.

There are added benefits to hiring interns that might outweigh the downside, such as good connections with the university and good potential press, but make sure that it is worth it. Just because interns are cheap (or possibly free) doesn't mean that they are affordable.

answered Oct 13 '09 at 16:31
Ron Ga
2,181 points

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