This blog was originally posted on Medium and edited for the Drafted blog.
For the last 3 years, we’ve been hiring insanely talented co-ops and interns at Drafted. In this post, I will detail how to hire interns - why it’s a good idea, the process, and some of the hacks we use to win the game. At Drafted, we started interviewing co-ops and interns when our team was 3 full-time, and it was awesome.
But first, here are some of the common objections you’ll hear when seeking to start hiring interns:
“We don’t have enough bandwidth to train them”
“If they’re bad we can’t fire them”
“We need full-time employees and we don’t have time to run a hiring process for interns until we fill the full-time positions”
“None of the engineers want to to mentor a interns”
“We don’t have anyone to do university relations or on-campus interviews”
“Co-ops? They’re not going to do real work”
Pretty much all objections boil down to this one false underlying belief:
“Investing in co-ops and interns have a negative ROI”
This can’t be farther from the truth if you know what you’re doing. Most people vastly underestimate the value of co-op programs and internships, and vastly overestimate the effort required for hiring and getting great results out of good ones. If you can’t get pumped up about hiring co-ops or interns, you can’t win.
No need for bureaucracy, just a very simple plan will do. Here’s a good starter plan if you have a small team.
This does not have to be exact, but having a rough estimate will come in handy later I promise.
For example: If you think $25 / hour is a good rate,
$25 per hour for 9 months would come out to roughly $36,000 + 10% for payroll taxes + 10% for overhead = $43,200.
The US News list of top rated internship and co-op programs is a good place to start. However, the factors I considered were:
This is one of the most important aspects of your co-op or intern plan because this will be your key differentiator in beating Google and Facebook at getting the best talent from your target school.
A great co-op/intern job description is very different from a great FTE job description. A great startup co-op/intern job description is also very different from a great big company job description.
If you optimize your job description for only ONE thing — optimize it for being different.
I believe that the best job descriptions are designed in a way that makes the reader want to learn more about the team, company, and job.
Instead of going into a ton of details and theoretical breakdown here, it’s easier to show than tell, so here is a FULL job description that I used recently when we were seeking an engineering co-op at Drafted.
Note from the CEO, Vinayak, to you, our future Hacker Fellow.
Requirements: Must really enjoy coding. Must have shipped at least one software project for school or otherwise. Familiarity with Node.js, React.js, Elixir is nice-to-have. Must be interested in pursuing a career related to software, products, startups, design, etc.
Usually, you won’t get all candidates at the same time. You’ll get the candidates either in batches or as a stream of notifications.
My screening strategy is to optimize for the speed of making contact with the best candidates, rather than the elimination of unqualified candidates.
Since I don’t know when such a candidate might express interest, I always look at incoming applications ASAP and try to make a decision within 2 minutes about whether to reach out or pass.
If I decide to reach out to a candidate, I cold call or text them on their listed cell number immediately.
Typically I first send a text message, and if I don’t receive a text response within 1 hour, I’ll cold call them.
Hi <Name> - this is Vinayak, founder and CEO at Drafted. Thanks for your interest in the Hacker Fellow position! Your profile was among the best applications we have received, and I'd love to give you a call whenever you're free. Should only take 20 minutes.
In most cases, I get responses within 2 minutes and am able to do a phone call with them the same day.
Here’s how I typically structure the phone call (15–30 minutes):
5 minutes: Introducing myself and Drafted
5 minutes: Two questions - What is the #1 thing you want to learn in this co-op? Why did you apply?
5 minutes: Explain the rest of the process to them and see if they have any questions about the company or co-op.
The extremely compressed timeline with quick-fire questions reveal:
Note: Sometimes people end up being very nervous because of the “surprise” that they get a text /call from the founder on such short notice. This is totally OK, and I typically start the call by saying “Don’t worry, this is not a test, I’m just calling to say hi and tell you about what’s next.” I find the confidence or nervousness during the first conversation has 0 correlation with our hiring decisions or future performance of the candidate.
Our programming exercise is designed by the engineering team (shoutout to Eric and Sam!) with the following objectives:
Our entire exercise is contained in a single 1 page Google Document, which gets sent to the candidate via email, immediately after they pass the phone screen.
They are allowed to complete it whenever they wish and take as long as they want. They are told only one thing — that we will move on to the next interview step with all candidates that complete the exercise, provided we have not already filled the position.
The best completion time we got from a candidate was within 2 hours of us sending the exercise instructions, and we on-site interviewed and him the following day.
Here is our exercise -
Using [Technology Framework 1], [Technology Framework 2], create [REDACTED]. [2 lines with specifications about functionality].
Feel free to email us partial solutions or ask for help with anything that doesn't make sense. Doing so won't count against you in any way.
We are using https://jsfiddle.net for the project, and we have already set up a basic working project (with the correct libraries) to fork that is linked at the very bottom of this document. If you really really don’t wanna use jsfiddle feel free to send us anything we can run with instructions on how we can run it.
[Specific instructions on how to build the project]
Things we are looking for:- [Some tech details specific to the project]- You were able to ship something that worked- You were able to follow instructions- You were able to learn the tech that you didn't know before this project
Example solution to a different exercisehttps://jsfiddle.net/[someurl]
Libraries to use:- [Some libraries with links to their docs]
Resources to learn:- [Links to tutorials on all the libraries and frameworks that we ask you to use in the project]
Action Items: For this project <link> and send us a link when you're done (or submit anything that we can run locally)
We send and evaluate the exercise with the candidate via email only. This tests written communication skills and simulates a real working environment. Good candidates often ask clarifying questions via email, or send partial solutions and ask for feedback on how to improve their approach.
As soon as we have a complete solution that works and is acceptable, we ask the candidate to come visit our office for 2–3 hours. They meet with 3–4 people at most, and time permitting we take them to lunch.
Immediately after the candidate leaves the office, we use the Champion-Veto system to make a decision on whether to Hire or Pass based on the information available. We typically don’t do reference checks that go beyond basic educational and resume verification for interns and co-op students, since they usually do not yield any new information.
We communicate this decision immediately via email for candidates that are a pass, or text + call for candidates that are a Hire, and follow up the next day with paperwork / formal offer letter etc.
This is a very overlooked part of the process, especially for co-ops. Every minute you can reduce between first contact with the candidate and communicating a decision is a huge advantage in winning their trust, showing them that we care about them and value their time, and introducing them to our culture of direct and fast feedback.
Usually, the structure of this conversation is as follows (20 minutes):
2 minutes: Congratulate the candidate and let them know that the team likes them and we want to offer them a co-op position
5 minutes: Feedback from the candidate - How did they think the interview process went overall? What would they change about the process? Do they have any feedback about what we can do better?
5 minutes: Questions about the candidate - Where are they in their search process? How would they rank Drafted among the different options they are pursuing? What are the most important factors to them when accepting an offer? What are their constraints in terms of start date / school schedule, etc.? How much time do they need to make a good decision about accepting / declining the offer?
2 minutes: Present the details of the offer - compensation / benefits
2 minutes: Talk about what specific projects you have in mind for them (subject to change of course)
2 minutes: Any more questions about the company or co-op?
2 minutes: If they had to make a decision immediately, what would it be? How did their perception of Drafted change from the time when they first saw the job description to now?
End: Set up a follow-up time / expectation to hear back from them.
Best case scenario, our process takes 3 business days from start to finish with a single candidate. There are several important parts of what I’ve outlined above that play a part in helping us win the best hires.
Vinayak is the CEO and founder at Drafted and huge fan helping talent people land co-ops and internships. If you have any questions about how to hire the best co-ops or inters feel free to reach out!