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How Students Can Successfully Intern with Startups

Updated: May 24, 2023

Internships in the startup world are a win-win for everyone involved. They allow startups the opportunity to find their first hires, bring in fresh ideas, and often do so at a lower cost than hiring an experienced full-time employee away from another job. For interns, they offer massive professional and personal development and the ability to enter a team changing the world. I am a big believer in internships. They’re the number one predictor of post-graduation success. If you’re a college student or career changer looking to work for a startup, check out some of the advice we share.


Overview:

  1. Find the startups in your neighborhood (and beyond)

  2. Take the initiative to get noticed

  3. Be prepared to change roles and responsibilities

  4. Check with your university for credit or wage assistance

  5. Keep a growth mindset


Ask any founder of a fast-growing startup what they do on a daily basis and you’ll hear how different each day can be.

Startups are constantly solving new problems as they arise. Be it customer support, product crashes, or investor requests, the business, and its employees are almost never able to define their days ahead of time. Sound like your kind of work? If you answered yes, maybe your next internship should be with a startup!


Interning with a startup is incredibly valuable. You are able to join a tight-knit team solving big problems that might disrupt an entire industry. You can put a great name on your resume and develop skills outside of your specific role – something you’ll certainly find more difficult at a large organization with more defined roles. And if things go well, you might have the opportunity to join the team as an early employee.


 

1. Find the startups in your neighborhood (and beyond)


Tap into the local startup scene to learn more about the businesses in your area. In Madison, we have groups like StartingBlock Madison and Capital Entrepreneurs where entrepreneurs can post open positions. Statewide, groups like the Wisconsin Technology Council, and gener8tor can clue in on businesses that might be a good fit.


Nationally, traditionally websites like LinkedIn, Handshake, and Indeed can work but are typically less used by startups. Try angellist.co and Ladder newsletter to find remote jobs, many of them for startups, across the country.


2. Take the initiative to get noticed


Let’s face it – startup founders are busy. They barely have time to think about their next hire let alone post the job to a job board. What does that mean for interns? It means you should reach out, ask about open positions, and share why you’d be a good fit for the company.


Here’s a template we recommend.


Subject: “Intern openings with [insert company name here]?”

Hi, I’m [insert name here], I am a student at [insert school] studying [insert major/focus here]. I came across your company and [insert compliment that plays to the ego of the founder (trust me, we all love a compliment about our businesses), e.g. “I really align with the mission of your business”]. I wanted to reach out and ask if you’d be willing to take on an intern to help with projects? I bring [insert a few skills you’re uniquely great at] and am a fast learner (or some similar “soft skill”).


I’d appreciate the opportunity to share more about my background and why I’d be a good fit for your business. Please feel free to review my resume (attached) and let me know how you’d like to proceed.

Best, [name]

Don’t be afraid to test this out and make adjustments as you’d like. You should make this introduction short and sweet and ask for a follow-up meeting.


3. Be prepared to change roles and responsibilities


Focus changes day-to-day in a startup. Be prepared for and accept that your role and responsibilities will change throughout your internship. Embrace the change as an opportunity to grow. But remember to ask your manager for clear expectations to make sure you meet their goals.


Whatever it is, the way you tell your story online can make all the difference.


Take initiative to solve problems as assigned. When you’re stuck, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

4. Check with your university for credit or wage assistance


Some colleges and universities will extend credit for participation in internships. Check-in with your university career center to determine if your opportunity falls under their set criteria. Also, ask about opportunities for your career center to assist in covering the costs of your wages. This makes it almost impossible for a startup to say no to adding an intern (read; YOU!)


5. Keep a growth mindset


You won’t be expected to completely nail every task you’re assigned as an intern. This is true whether interning at a large, established firm or a startup. Take initiative to solve problems as assigned. When you’re stuck, don’t be afraid to ask for help.


Remember – you’re there to learn! The best interns are the ones who are teachable and willing to take on new challenges with a positive attitude.




See our industry-specific programs with the links below.


Accounting pre-internship programs here →

Marketing pre-internship programs here →

Cybersecurity pre-internship programs here →

Software development pre-internship programs here →

See all programs here →

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