Why your business needs student interns (and how to get them)

It’s the catch-22 faced by most startups: you need more workers to boost revenue, but you need more revenue to hire more workers!

So, how do you deal with this conundrum? There are a number of creative ways to get that extra help without sinking your business. One of the best ways: start an internship programme. At Rocketspark, we’ve had a number of student interns, and it’s been brilliant—for us and them. Here’s what we’ve learned along the way:


It’s affordable

Hiring an intern won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Firstly, they’re usually part-time, if for no other reason than they also need time for their studies. Secondly, students don’t expect to be paid as much as a full time employee as they haven’t completed their degree and don’t have industry experience. That means you can get a little extra help without blowing the budget.

You can scout talent

Taking on an intern lets you work with someone in a part-time capacity before committing to permanent employment. You can assess ability and compatibility, and if you like them, your established relationship with them means, practically speaking, you often get “first dibs” once they graduate.

It gives you time to plan

Another positive of taking the internship route is that it gives you time to plan for permanent employment. If you’re looking to hire on a permanent basis in the future, hiring an intern in the meantime gives you extra time to make space in the budget for taking on extra staff.

You’re helping out a student

The beauty of student internships is that they’re win-win. Not only are you getting a bargain, you’re also helping a student find their feet in the industry. The work experience they gain during their internship with you will be a real asset to them as they look for employment, whether that’s ultimately with your company or another. In the case of unpaid internships, students are usually able to gain course credit which contributes towards the completion of their qualification.


Develop relationships with training institutions

Unless you happen to personally know suitable students studying in your field, you might have trouble finding a reliable source of student interns—unless you develop a relationship with your local university, polytechnic, or industry training institution. At Rocketspark, we struck up relationships with the University of Waikato and Wintec by attending their industry networking events and by reaching out to lecturers. Most faculty want to give their students real-world work opportunities, so you’ll probably find them to be receptive.

Work on a contract basis

At least, do so if you’re not sure how long the work will last. Of course, a contractor’s hourly rate is usually higher, so why do it that way? At Rocketspark, we find doing it on a contract basis usually suits us better, because you’re not locked into a permanent arrangement (of course, this privilege cuts both ways!). Students hours and availability can chop and change from semester to semester, exam week, holidays etc so a contractor agreement is more flexible for both parties. Plus, it’s far simpler in terms of human resources. On the other hand, if the work is steady and ongoing, then permanent employment may be the way to go.

Consider the cost

You need to consider the cost before taking on interns, even when they’re unpaid. Managing interns takes time. You need to find work for them to do, show them how to do it, help them through any issues, etc. Usually, the management overhead is totally worth it, crossing off a ton of work you might have struggled to get done yourself. But there is a time-cost, so if you don’t need interns, you’re probably be better off without them.

Plan the work

You don’t want to be scrambling on an intern’s first day on the job, trying to find something for them to do. Plan ahead, ensuring you have suitable work lined up. Otherwise, you’ll probably just end up assigning pointless busywork, which defeats the purpose of taking them on in the first place.

Conclusion: intern(al) affairs

Getting the extra help you need to foster business growth doesn’t have to cost the earth. With a bit of unconventional thinking, you can nab emerging talent at a price that won’t cripple you. By nurturing relationships with training institutions and carefully planning ahead, you can establish an internship programme that serves as both a practical way to get help and a way to give help to an industry fledgling.

Intern Story 1: Natalie

Design extraordinaire, Natalie, started out at Rocketspark as an intern. “Working at Rocketspark [as a student intern] was a great way to apply the skills I had learnt at uni in a real-world context,” she says. “It exposed me to new ways of thinking and challenged me to really think about the problem, as I was working with real clients.” We liked Natalie and she liked us, so after graduating, she came onboard full-time. Looking back, she values her season as an intern: “[My internship] gave me lots of opportunities to grow and learn”.