How to Build a Great Intern Program From Scratch with Shopify

Internships have sparked millions of successful careers, and they can be a valuable talent pool from which companies can eventually hire full-time employees. But it’s critical to build your internship program the right way. Farhan Thawar, the VP of Engineering at Shopify, has dedicated years to perfecting his internship program and shares his insider tips for launching a successful initiative of your own.

Why Interns?

Farhan knows that businesses all want the best talent to work for them. And often, the top talent is synonymous with years of experience in many minds. “What people forget in many ways is that experienced people get experience somewhere, and they learn and become imprinted in their first few jobs out of school,” Farhan says. He explains that interns will not only end up with lots of context about your company, but they will also bring different ideas and different ways of working. “I think it is important to think about interns paradoxically as a way to increase the diversity in your organization from a generation perspective.”

Farhan lays out further details about why interns are an integral piece of your workforce:

  • Interns represent the next generation of your employees and, potentially, your customers. They likely grew up in a different technical era.
  • You can learn as much from interns as they can learn from you.
  • Interns can accelerate your roadmap using new approaches and tools.
  • Interns are a pipeline for full-time talent.
  • They can change your company’s energy for the better.
  • Career Imprinting: Most people are shaped by their first few jobs out of school. Your company could be one of them by hiring ambitious interns.
  • Diversity: Interns bring variety in age, race, gender, and experience to your business.
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Tips for Building a Top-Notch Internship Program

Know What Interns Want

Interns are looking for similar things as full-time employees, including mastery of their craft, autonomy to work with creativity, and a purpose of working on something larger than themselves. However, interns also want mentorship, networking opportunities, and to try out a new domain and a new company.

Recruitment Tips

Farhan shares several methods for recruitment, including:

  • Job postings on your company site, intern-specific sites, or a university website.
  • Email professors directly asking for their top students.
  • Career fairs.
  • Host talks or seminars at university classes.
  • Webinars and tech industry talks.  
  • Pro-Tip: Think about offering food or prizes at info sessions to attract more interns.
  • Visas: If hiring international interns, be sure you know what you need to do to ensure they get a visa.

As far as the number of intern hires you should make, Farhan suggests that it’s much higher than you may think. He offers some guidelines depending on company size: Startups should try to hire 1:1 intern to full-time employee, and larger companies should balance dozens to hundreds.

What Makes a Good Internship

Farhan stresses that companies should always pay their interns. Additionally, he suggests letting interns take on real work and responsibilities rather than grunt work or busy work. Offer strong mentorship and ensure there is a fun and lively intern community. Most of all, treat interns with the same respect as full-time employees, not as second-class citizens. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Treat interns as full-time employees.
  • Hire more interns than you think you need.
  • Offer interns an easy ramp to come back to your company.
Published on February 12, 2021

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