Interning at a start-up: A student’s perspective

Hi, I’m Vanessa, a British university student studying French and Business, currently living in Paris on my year abroad working as a full-time Community Management intern at Sciago. I’ve now been working here for 3 months, and want to share with you my student perspective on interning at a start-up! Here it is:


You’re still learning

In a start-up, one can expect a lot of self-teaching and being mentored. Although every member of our team has been specialized in various fields, we are all constantly teaching ourselves more in order to finish the work that needs to get done.

Life is about improving yourself, and this includes how you work and what you know how to do – so… thankfully we have this resourceful thing called the internet.

At the start of my internship, I read many articles on how to properly execute being a “community manager” – what is SEO? How do I create a social media calendar? All these questions that I somehow needed to find an answer to myself. It took me a few weeks to learn the essentials for my everyday tasks and grasp a deeper understanding on the company too. But, in doing so, I was reinforced to be independent, to figure out how to do things on my own. It was a lot of reading and then learning how to relate it to Sciago at first. But, in the end, self-teaching is a skill and working in a start-up on a small team can very much help you develop that.

Experience the real work world, expand your insights

As you probably already know, internships serve to give you a taste in your potential job industry, to help you determine if you’ll like it or not, and set a foundation for your career. Since the start of my internship, I’ve already gained a good deal of experience in a small part of the marketing field – which is what I hope to get into in the future.

Additionally, you can meet new contacts within the industry, or for anything that interests you. In our co-working space – a joint space with other start-ups – it’s a perfect place to find new contacts concerned with different industries.

Interning, furthermore, allowed me to gain insights into the reality of start-ups: the hassles and joys of it, sitting in meetings and hearing company updates with clients and even current happenings within our own team. These are things you simply cannot learn from academic textbooks, and that are one of the many benefits of working with such a small team.

There’s only seven of us, including me

Working in a start-up will probably mean working with a small team. At Sciago, we are a team composed of just seven people! Not only does this allow us to get to know each other quite well, but it also helps us realize that each person is very important for the success of the company.

As the social media manager, I have to ensure that each post is relevant to our company. Although the title of “social media manager” may seem like a small task, it has actually turned out to be extremely important. Without a big marketing budget, it has turned into our main promotional outlet, without which we would have little to no social influence and therefore miss opportunities for potential clients.

A small team also equates to learning how to balance work and friend relationships in a professional manner. Although we are lucky enough to be able to joke around, we know that, when it’s grind time – it’s grind time. It’s the balance between knowing that you can be friends while still remaining coworkers in a professional setting.

When we had our company Christmas party after the holiday, it felt very much like a small gathering with friends, only in an office setting! Christmas songs were playing in early January, everyone brought food and we played the gift game White Elephant, a fine memory and a good way to keep company culture. I don’t think you could find the same atmosphere in a company with 100+ employees!

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset
White Elephant Game with a twist.

A small team might mean more tasks and responsibilities, however, perhaps you can find yourself being challenged to do something new or maybe daunting. This can push you to learn more and diversify your skills – in discomfort you can learn.

Start-ups are also great because you’re never bored, there’s always plenty of work to keep you busy. But, on the other hand, you’re only an intern… are tasks pilling up a bit too much? If it’s a part of your role, or you personally don’t mind, then take on the extra load – but just remember that start-ups are typically understaffed, and so everyone is working extra to stay ahead. It’s very important to remember that you are an intern, and to therefore be careful that you are not doing more than you can handle or than you’re supposed to.

Brings out your confidence and know your value

In the process of finding internships, going to interviews, then plunging yourself right into the work environment – you’ll teach yourself to be confident. Confidence that you are the right person, regardless if you feel as if you lack experience. You’ll recognise your strengths and weaknesses during the experience, so you can be prepared to make better decisions in the future.

In the last months, there have been moments that showed me that I’m very much valued here at Sciago, even though I’m “just an intern” and one of the youngest team members. I came here with an ignorant mind, shaped by the media and convinced that I’d be a robot, simply taking commands from my co-workers. But, at a start-up, your ideas, and your input actually matter to the team. So, no matter how old you are or what your position is, be confident in yourself and your decisions.


Work full time hours but can live the broke life

Many internships today are unpaid. Start-ups, which typically have very limited financial resources, therefore love interns – it’s free work for a few months, under legal terms.

I work 6 hours a day, 5 days per week, 30 hours a week – in other words, full-time hours. Some companies are devious and don’t care whether you are getting paid. However, as a fortunate Erasmus student, I get funded from my university. The downside is that funding can be slow, so I struggled during the first two months of my internship, as I waited to receive my grant money, and so there was a time when I depended on my parents’ finances. What did this mean? Budgeting. It’s another skill you’ll learn as an intern and, although may seem like a burden, it’s a necessary life skill too.

From an intern to a job

There are some cases where internships allow you to land a job in a company.

After interning in a start-up for a few months, chances are that, once your contract is over, they’ll search for another intern to save money. But, if the circumstances allow and they end up liking your work, you may be hired on as a longer-term intern or a full-time employee! Allowing you to work the same tasks and position, but with pay.

Sometimes, roughing it out can really pay off! After all, how would you get a full-time job if you didn’t have an internship in the first place?

Business agreement handshake at coffee shop

As you can see, internships can have more advantages than disadvantages! The lessons to take away are:

  1. Don’t be biased by how the media portrays us interns, as if we’re nothing but someone who grabs coffees.
  2. Don’t be afraid of trying new positions or applying to something you feel is challenging. The job industry is competitive but internships are a great way to gain experience.
  3. Work in what you love, or at least, partly like – that’s important to keep you motivated!

Article by Vanessa Quiaoit

Ever been an intern? How was your experience, let us know in the comments!

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