How To Land an Internship at a Start-up

TL;DR Like any other job, do your homework and choose carefully

At Wallaby Financial, we like to have a product management intern on hand at all times.  First, it’s a great source of inexpensive labor (more on why we pay in a later post). Second, we like to cultivate future potential employees. Third, we like to give back a little. To that end, we’d like to give back some advice on getting an internship.

We just hired our fourth intern (he starts Monday), and now having interviewed dozens of people for these internships, I’ve come up with a pretty clear idea of what makes us excited about each candidate.

To us, interns are not expected to have many relevant product management skills.  The point of an internship is to learn while doing, and so we expect to teach a lot.  Additionally, we don’t run a super rule-based product development system, so it’s easier to pick up.

Our interns do a variety of tasks, as I am strong believer that a great PM understand his product inside out and that working across the product is the only way to do this.  A Wallaby intern will answer customer service e-mails, post on social media, manage card data, do analysis, write user stories and more.  Our interns participate in daily stand-ups on days they are here and are treated as a full, if part-time member of the team.

We typically receive quite a number of applicants and many of them are qualified.  We are insistent on the intern being a current student, undergraduate or graduate. (Side note, on the how not to get hired, don’t ignore requirements like this we put in all caps at the bottom of the posting. That will put a black mark on you permanently here.)

We are watching everything about the application process. We track how the intern applied (built into the Resumator app we use for hiring).  Did they apply from our tweet or website, or did they just find us on indeed.com? How responsive are they to e-mails?  When they answered the question “What Makes You Unique?” on the web app was it funny? lame? obnoxious? salesy?

Most importantly, we are trying to understand how much this person already does or might start to care about Wallaby.  On a small team we cannot afford someone who is just looking to check a box (“Yes, in college I interned at a VC-backed startup.”). Nor can we find someone who thinks poorly of what we do (“Interesting product, very small market.”)

During the interview we make sure someone always asks if the applicant used our product. Do they have feedback? Is the feedback thoughtful? Do they understand what we’re doing? Do they give a shit? If you walk in and you haven’t a clue what we do, it isn’t going to end well.

So, how do you get a job at a startup (at least if that startup is Wallaby?). Ten tips:

  1. Look for companies near you (remote interns are really hard)

  2. Look for companies who work in a field you’re interested in. Be prepared to explain why you are interested

  3. Once you find an application or a company, go to the company website before applying. Do some research. Understand what you’re getting into.

  4. Apply on the company website. Use the form. It’s there for a reason.

  5. Write a note to the CEO about your application.  Find his e-mail address. If it’s hard to find or guess, wonder about the culture. My e-mail is really easy to find, I am not impressed when you have to ask for it.

  6. Respond to e-mail or calls from the company promptly. Make it easy for them, you’re one of many.

  7. Be prepared to talk about the market, product and industry when you come in. We’re testing you for interest and capabilities. If you can communicate well, think critically and do research you’ll be fine.

  8. Be prepared for basic questions such as: “What do you want to do after graduation?” “Why do you want this internship?” “What are your career goals?” (Seriously, I have to say this, you’d be surprised.

  9. Send a thank you note after the interview

  10. Don’t wear a suit

In short, show us some effort and follow the basic guidelines from your career services center (except #10, they probably say the opposite).

We love our interns and we hope each of them has loved us back. Working at an early stage startup is an amazing experience. My time with startups in high school is a huge part of what gave me the skills and confidence to start Wallaby.  Find a great opportunity and pursue it–we want you on the team.

If this post made you interested in working at Wallaby, please send me an e-mail. Go find my address yourself, that’s the first test.