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5 Steps to Get Hired as an Intern in a Startup

intern in startup

Every year, students clamor to win internships at coveted brands such as Google and Disney. Depending on your location and career goals, you can likely think of several other companies that are considered to be “the hottest” options for internships.

The benefit of landing internships at these companies is clear. You believe that it could lead to multiple networking possibilities, mentorship opportunities and you can “graduate” with a ton of unique industry insights that you could then apply to your hustle.

But, let’s be realistic. There’s not a place for every student at “big name” companies. Further, they aren’t always the best choice.

Why Interning in a Startup May Be a Better Career Move

Consider this, as part of a startup team; you may have varied responsibilities, making the experience both exciting and rewarding.

Your input may be more valued, and you might play a role in actual projects, rather than being given some lectures on how the company operates. Unlike larger companies that work very hard to create and curate internship experiences with lots of workshops and mentoring, startups tend to present less formalized knowledge opportunities, but more real work.

For wannabe entrepreneurs who are still at school, startup internships are the best way to receive hands-on training sans the “corporate crust” and make valuable connections in the ecosystem. And if you want to land that opportunity when it comes, here are the five simple steps to follow.

1. Identify Where You Can be Useful

Don’t let the pursuit of your endgame get in the way of progress. Remember that most startups are lean operations. They don’t have the resources to support team members that don’t contribute. This often includes interns.

Yes, you may dream to launch a blockchain startup or learn more about creating pitch decks and connecting with investors. And you should certainly pursue internships that will allow you to explore these things. At the same time, remember that your best chance for landing such opportunity as a recent graduate could lie in the skills you come with. It may not be your degree that is most attractive. It could be:

  • Your customer service experience from working summers at a call center.
  • Your current side project.
  • Your experience with various project management software.

Balance what you want to learn with what you have to offer.

2. Make a List of Startups That Take Interns And Treat Them Well

There are pros and cons when it comes to working at a startup, not to mention actually running one.

As mentioned earlier, you will have plenty of learning opportunities, mingle with industry experts and be part of the current team. Maybe, you can even get in on the ground floor of something huge.

On the other hand, the work is intense and demanding. You might find yourself feeling as if you’ve woken up in a new world every day. Crises often crop up that nobody has experience in dealing with. Founders often have intense personalities, and that can be difficult for some people to work with.

The best internships are the ones where the benefits make the drawbacks worthwhile. So carefully research the companies where you’ll file your application. You’ll want to find startups that have a history of treating interns and employees well. If they pay, that’s even better. It’s a sign that they value the contributions interns make, and aren’t simply looking for a free source of labor.

3. Don’t Assume That Formalities Go Out The Window

Ping pong tables in the breakroom, bean bag chairs instead of desks, and office cats; people often assume that startups are fun, casual places to work where all of the stuffiness of major corporations have been eschewed. That’s simply not true.

At least they’re untrue in terms of performance expectations and the hiring process. As an intern, you should expect to go through a formal process. You should put together a professional looking resume or CV. Consider sticking to one of the three main resume formats for the best results. Creativity is often appreciated, but due to the sheer volume of applications, most companies are now using HR software that will automatically discard resumes that do not fit a certain standard. So unless you are sending your resume to an established connection, keep it formal and up-to standards.

Be on time and prepared at interviews. Keep your portfolio up to date with your latest work. If you land an opportunity, maintain high standards of productivity, and don’t confuse a casual work environment with lowered expectations.

4. Start Making Connections Early

Spring semester of your senior year is not the time to begin considering internships. In fact, as soon as you know your major, you should start making connections with startups and other companies that interest you.

Attend local networking events for entrepreneurs. Sign up for a conference or a niche event organized by one of the companies you admire. Reach out to startups and founders on Twitter and LinkedIn. Don’t just follow them. Engage with their content, answer their questions and get on the person’s radar. Find other students who have interned with that startup.

Your goal is to try to identify or make at least one “personal” contact to increase your chances of being accepted to the internship program, or even directly proposed an opportunity during summer.

5. Learn What The Startup Does Before You Apply

Never pursue an internship until you have a very thorough knowledge of the company. It’s not enough to know that a company is an e-commerce startup or develop software for the accounting industry. You should be able to answer most of the following questions:

  • Who are their target clients?
  • When did they go into business?
  • What are the names of their founding members?
  • Where are their headquarters?
  • How many employees do they have?
  • What makes them different from their competitors?

Scout websites such as Glassdoor and Crunchbase as research sources. Don’t forget to keep up with the company’s own website and press releases. You might even use Google Alerts, and subscribe to the company’s RSS feeds so that you don’t miss any important announcements.

Startups can often offer things that other companies cannot. By interning at a startup, you can make a bigger splash, contribute more, and learn enough to launch your own venture after you graduate. Hands-on experience is everything, and startup internships help you build it up!


  • Elena Prokopets

    Elena runs content operations at Freesumes since 2017. She works closely with copywriters, designers, and invited career experts to ensure that all content meets our highest editorial standards. Up to date, she wrote over 200 career-related pieces around resume writing, career advice... more

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