Greig Robertson is the founder and solutions architect at software development firm YouDo. The Wellington-based firm has 12 staff, and has taken on at least one intern each year since it began in 2007.
What's motivated you to take on interns in your business?
We're always looking for smart people and it's proved a good way of recruiting. Taking on interns helps us see what's out in the market and to get people we like in the office to work alongside us for a while. As a small business our workload can go up and down quite quickly, but we've been able to offer full time positions to most of the graduates we've taken on as interns. And even if we don't take the person on, at the end of the day we're still giving them experience and training, so it's a way of giving back to the wider IT community. We try to make it work for all parties.
How have you sourced your interns?
Probably half have come through the Summer of Tech internship programme, and the other half via word of mouth. One graduate we took on as an intern one year, for example, said 'I've got this friend at university who's really smart and he's looking for a job' so we ended up taking on him as well.
How do you assess whether someone will be a good fit for an internship in your business?
We have a two-step process. The first is an informal interview to assess if what we offer and what they want are a match. As a small business what we can offer is a bit different to that of the big employers, so we're more likely to have a variety of small projects to work on, which some people like. Then we'll have a technical interview where we'll ask them about their course of study; what exposure, if any, they've had to our particular technologies; and we might throw a few difficult technical questions at them. We also tend to look for interns who are quite self-reliant, because we tend to throw them straight in the deep end.
How have you found you've got the most out of interns once they're in your workplace?
We've found the best approach is to give them a project that's focused and not too big, so it's something they can achieve in the three months they're with us. And it needs to be a project that will have real users and customers, so it will be of real commercial benefit to someone. If the project is real, short, targeted and interesting everyone wins - they get the real life experience, but we also get value out of it as a business.
What are the challenges in a smaller business of taking on interns?
At the start we really underestimated the amount of time someone needs to spend with an intern. Things like getting them set up in the office, teaching them about a project and the technologies we use, answering the ongoing questions you get each day throughout a project - they all take a lot of time. Those things are all good, and ongoing learning, coaching and asking questions are things we want to encourage more generally in our workplace culture, but they do require good management. Luckily everyone in our office is quite open, approachable and can connect technical questions back to the relevant person in the office so the burden doesn't always fall too much on one person. Most people remember their first day of work and how terrifying that was, so they can empathise with being the new kid on the block.
What advice would you have for another small business owner looking to take on an intern?
Do it, but watch out for that time management side of it. And come up with a short, focused piece of work that you both will extract value from.