Editor's Picks

5 S'porean Startups Spill The Beans On What They REALLY Think About Interns

It’s just in time for internship period, the best time of learning for many. From the awesome to the boring, we can safely conclude that no internship experience is ever the same.

In a bid to understand the other side of the relationship, we reached out to the founders and co-founders of local startups. And what we found out is that like their temporary employees, internships are also an eye-opening experience for themselves.

Disclaimer: Some of the startups didn’t want to be named, so we put an asterisk (*) next to their alias.

1. Max Lee (SPARK Asia)

Industry: Advertising / App / Tech

Spark's Team Photo
The Spark Team / Image Credit: Max Lee

Do your interns come from all age groups or do you usually hire those from a particular group? Why? 

Our interns are generally students, from Poly students, to JC students waiting to start University and Undergrads.

We look for students who are looking to gain exposure during their holidays or who are waiting to start their next phase of life.

Do you interview the interns before they come in? What are characteristics you look out for, and are there special questions you ask them?

My co-founder, Luke, and I, will interview all interns before hiring them. The main criteria we are seeking for is that their personality fits in to the company culture. As we are a very fast paced company, it is important for them to fit in the company culture well as we all work towards a common goal and vision.

Next, we will look out for the requisite basic skills such as photoshop, confidence levels,  public speaking etc.

Yes, we ask different interviewees a whole plethora of questions just to see how well they can come out with answers. Some of the interesting questions are as follows:

 – Does the chicken or egg come first?

 – Why do cows have milk?

 – Why is the iPhone called an iPhone?

What are your general impressions of your interns so far?

Hungry. Like literally. They are constantly seeking for food.

I mean they are of course hungry for knowledge too, we always tell our interns, the more they are willing to learn, the more we will give them the opportunity to do so.

Are interns different to full-timers, or do you find them pretty similar?

Both the interns and full-timers are constantly working towards the same goal and vision. However, full-timers are generally the go-to when in doubt as they will know what are the general decisions to make when facing certain issues. The full-timers are also role models for the interns in terms of working attitude and knowledge.

What are the pros and cons of hiring interns as compared to full-timers?

Can’t hide the truth that interns are generally more cost friendly. They are hungry to learn and are constantly asking from you more opportunities to grow as individual. However, it takes time for all the full timers to guide and teach them when they first start.

What’s the most memorable (good/bad) experience with an intern so far?

Watching them grow from feeling shy, to being able to talk to other people, and to pitch and close a deal with potential clients. Felt like a proud father.

Advice to future interns

Always ask what you will be exposed to, if the company/start-up is making u do misc work, my advice is to not accept it even if they are a big household brand. You will just be termed as a ‘cheap admin’ which clear up works that all full timers dread. Look for opportunities that will make you grow as an individual.

Advice to fellow startups who are intending to/are hiring interns

Don’t hire just because it is cost friendly, hire because you know you can add value to them and they in turn can bring lots of value to the company.

2. Daniel (Startup Confidential)

Industry: Digital Media

Stock Image Of Intern At Work
Image Credit: Pexels

Do your interns come from all age groups or do you usually hire those from a particular group? Why?

We hire from a range of age groups. Most of interns are either polytechnic or university students, though we’ve had a fair share of interns who were full-timers from other industries and were interested in testing out the industry.

Do you interview the interns before they come in? What are characteristics you look out for, and are there any special questions you ask them?

We love to spot talents and groom them. For us, we’re really big on teaching and adding value to our interns, making sure they leave with more than when they first joined us. Ultimately, we look for eager-eyed individuals who are keen to learn with great work ethic and an up-for-anything attitude.

What are your general impressions of your interns so far?

They’re great! There’s always an air of uncertainty when it comes to hiring because there’s a lot that cannot be determined from an interview alone. We’ve had great luck with our present and past interns, some of which we’ve converted to full-timers.

Are interns different from full-timers, or do you find them pretty similar?

As part of the learning process, we try our best to not restrict interns from participating in certain scope of work such as client servicing. Back when I was an intern, it can be frustrating because we would always be in the background and would have little to no chance of expressing our ideas to the bosses or to the client. Hence, we keep hierarchy fairly flat here because great ideas can come from anywhere.

The only main difference is that interns can sometimes be quite reactive and stressed by certain situations that most full-timers are more experienced with. This could be from dealing with difficult clients to working on tight deadlines. The work can sometimes be more refined, but again, these issues come with experience and is usually of no fault of theirs.

What are the pros and cons of hiring interns as compared to full-timers?

It’s hard to ignore the obvious, but one big advantage is cost. A lot of full-timers can get bogged down with time-consuming tasks which interns are more than capable of handling. Another huge plus is getting fresh ideas from fresh minds.

In terms of cons, interns can sometimes lack professionalism, especially those who are interning for the first time. Nothing too severe, but at times it pays to have levelled headed individuals when it gets to crunch time.

What’s the most memorable (good/bad) experience with an intern so far?

As mentioned, we’ve had pretty good luck when it comes to interns so far. For me, it’s truly heartening when I see an intern in complete ownership of a situation. It’s also great fun mingling with them over lunch or company bonding sessions, to listen about their outlook of life, the industry and what their vision and dreams are.

Advice to future interns

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Supervisors can get quite used to delivering quick instructions without being clear. So, if there’s any doubts, always clarify. It saves time for all parties and it’s a great way to learn.

Don’t be afraid to share ideas. From my experience, interns tend to be reluctant to share ideas in front of a group, but when I speak to them personally, their ideas can be really inspiring.

It won’t be easy at times. If it’s your first internship, it’s going to be very different from anything you’ve experienced before and it certainly won’t be like school. Be prepared for days when work can pile up, so always stay on top of things and keep your supervisors in the know.

Don’t take it personally. It’s not uncommon for interns to be at the brunt of a frustrated supervisor, especially if work quality is questioned. There’s always a lesson to be learnt and take it as motivation to improve and learn.

Advice to fellow startups who are intending to/are hiring interns

Give them opportunities to shine. Sometimes we don’t have all the answers. Interns have a lot to contribute and if they’re willing, hear them out.

3. Aaron Tan (Carro)

Industry: E-commerce

Office
The Carro Team / Image Credit: Aaron Tan

Do your interns come from all age groups or do you usually hire those from a particular group? Why? 

Yes, all age groups – youngest – pre-national service (post JC) and even MBAs. We don’t discriminate, we actually hire from a very wide range of age groups. I personally believe that age/school is not really important as long as the work ethics/attitude is good. And it is the same as how we look at hiring our full time staff here – quality of schools doesn’t really matter.

Do you interview the interns before they come in? What are characteristics you look out for, and are there any special questions you ask them?

In general we do, each department look for their own interns. Primary characteristic is willingness to learn, enthusiastic about work – we need people who are hardworking and energetic here. No special or interesting question. Though for technical interns, we tend to ask them more technical staff.

What are your general impressions of your interns so far?

Good, it helps with interim workload stuff. In general good work. And more importantly they help lift the spirit in office!

Are interns different to full-timers, or do you find them pretty similar?

We don’t really discriminate them too much. Though there are certain boundaries like interns do not touch production codes for our core platform. That said, they are expected to work hard and have fun.

What are the pros and cons of hiring interns as compared to full-timers?

It helps us better prepare ourselves for scale. Having more hands on deck requires you to shape your thinking into ‘work blocks’. With interns, we can test certain hypothesis and workflows to help better optimise our internal workflows etc. Versus hiring full on straight up, interns allow us to experiment.

The main drawback of interns if length of time and ‘retraining’. Given that we churn through so many interns in the last few months. It help us get into the mode of ‘constant retraining’, preparing the right materials etc. Which is superb. That said, super tiring to keep doing this. At some point we need to graduate from this.

What’s the most memorable (good/bad) experience with an intern so far?

Bad experience – we had an intern once who was helping with social media post, we only found out 3months after she left that most of the articles she wrote were plagiarised from other blog post – ouch.

Good experience – in general most interns genuinely wants to help. We had a few really good interns who are in charge of certain non call product lines like http://trafficbuddy.carro.sg also some interns who are really good with video production etc. So It is in general very good.

Advice to future interns

Never be afraid to work hard. Also, the longer you intern the better for the company : )

I would personally intern in a startup than in a large corporate company. It is a lot more fun and fulfilling interning in startups like Carro – my interns can attest to this!

Advice to fellow startups who are intending to/are hiring interns

(Sarcasm) Please stop hiring interns, they suck, and stop competing for the same talent pool. They are really not all that good!

4. John* (Startup Confidential)

Industry: Media & Advertising

Stock Image of Intern at Work
Image Credit: Pexels

Do your interns come from all age groups or do you usually hire those from a particular group? Why?

Uni. My goal for interns is to hire them after they finish their studies within the next 1-2 years. So generally uni grads are a safe bet as poly students for the guys still need to attend NS and a lot can change after NS.

Do you interview the interns before they come in? What are characteristics you look out for, and are there any special questions you ask them?

Definitely. I need to make sure i get an intern with the potential to eventually hire. They must fit into my team culture. We give them challenging questions to get them to think on the spot to assess their creative thinking skills.

What are your general impressions of your interns so far?

So far all my interns have been amazing. Great personality, intelligent and hardworking.

Are interns different from full-timers, or do you find them pretty similar?

For me i try not to differentiate them that much to give them the full experience of working in my company. In terms of competency, it is natural that interns do not have industry experience, so they always need to be brought up to speed in these areas.

What are the pros and cons of hiring interns as compared to full-timers? 

Interns are like plasters that help solve short term pains if you are shorthanded. They might be great but at the end of the day they will be returning to work, so that’s a real downer. Full timers on the other hand are going to be with you for the long haul (if you give them a fulfilling career) so there’s a lot more to invest in them.

What’s the most memorable (good/bad) experience with an intern so far? 

When I see my interns work super hard i.e. staying late into the night and giving their 110% beyond what they are assigned to do, it always makes me appreciate such moments.

Advice to future interns 

Put effort into your internship applications to distinguish yourself from the rest of the applicants. The spread and pray method doesn’t work well. I’ve received a ton of applications from prospective interns that didn’t even manage to successfully change the company name in their cover letter.

Advice to fellow startups who are intending to/are hiring interns 

Don’t waste an interns time by making them do senseless tasks. Give them proper roles and let them impress you. Treat them well and hopefully one day they’ll return to your company when they are ready.

5. Murtuza Topiwalla (Carbonate)

Industry: IT 

Stock Image Of Intern At Work
Image Credit: Pexels

Do your interns come from all age groups or do you usually hire those from a particular group? Why? 

Usually Uni interns as they are older and a bit more mature.

Do you interview the interns before they come in? What are characteristics you look out for, and are there any special questions you ask them?

Yes we do. We ask them about their ambitions and what drives them. After this, we ask them some logic-based questions relating to the industry we are hiring the intern for.

What are your general impressions of your interns so far?

They are generally very fresh with almost no industry experience and are trying to map theory to practical implementation.

Are interns different from full-timers, or do you find them pretty similar?

No. Unless the full timer is without experience.

What are the pros and cons of hiring interns as compared to full-timers?

Interns have to get back to studying and its not a sure bet they would join you post graduation. This is really difficult to deal with as you train them and they leave.

What’s the most memorable (good/bad) experience with an intern so far?

An intern had come in and actually picked up marketing techniques that we did not even know about and had proven to be a valuable asset to the company. He is still with us : )

Advice to future interns

Try to be a bit more open minded about work and what you need to do there. Do not always try to compare what you are doing with what you have been taught. Learn to improvise.

Advice to fellow startups who are intending to/are hiring interns

Know that they are students and that they will be gone some day : )

Final Words

While the word ‘internship’ used to entail the image of overworked, underpaid sai gang warriors, startups, which offer a relatively ‘flat’ structure without strict definitions of hierarchy, give their interns a chance to grow and prepare themselves for an impending working life.

Rarely does something like this happen in a startup environment.

Regardless of whether you’re an intern looking to fruitfully fill up your time during the holiday, or if you’re a startup owner looking into the option of hiring interns, we’re sure that the answers our respondents very kindly provided were helpful.

What are your thoughts on interns and internships? Let us know!

 

Subscribe to Vulcan Post Newsletter

Stay updated with our weekly curated news and updates.