The Summer We Had More Interns Than Employees

The Summer We Had More Interns Than Employees

Like most young businesses trying to grow, we faced a significant problem. We needed more people in order to get more work, but we didn’t have the cash to pay those people until after the new work started coming in. Tricky.

We had a grand idea. Grown-up companies had them. Why couldn’t we have them, too? Interns!

We didn’t start with one intern, as would have been smart. We hired…well, I have no idea how many we hired. I think 8. But like a good fishing story, the number has grown in my mind over time. We hired so many that we had to hire an intern to coordinate the other interns. This was going to be a productive summer.

Logistical problem number one: there were only 5 Bullhorn employees working in the office at that time. We had desks for maybe 7. Where would we put the new folks? We had an old stall door from a horse barn. It fit with the early-2000s-hip-office aesthetic. We had some friends who had a carpentry business. They leveled the surface, built legs, and had a glass top made. We didn’t ask for a quote… The bill was so staggering that, like the number of interns, I have put the actual amount out of my mind.

Always get a quote.

Logistical problem number two: what were the interns going to do? There was a small army of aspiring account managers (who didn’t have any work given the absence of any accounts), one designer, and an animator..and the aforementioned intern manager.

It was sort of like “The Real World.” We hired a reality show we couldn’t turn off. There was the beautiful one who condescended everyone. There was the loud one who talked and talked and talked. There was the diligent one who desperately tried to keep everything together and make something. There was the weird one who everyone loves in the end.

As any reasonable person would have predicted, halfway through the summer, we had a crisis meeting. They weren’t doing anything. They were distracting us, and I was still bitter about the ballooning cost of cheap labor. I reiterated what we wanted to do and be as a company. I took the heat for the lack of clarity. It was my fault. But we needed to figure out something to right the ship or we would need to part ways.

To my surprise, by the end of the meeting we had an idea. It wasn’t realistic for them to work for clients, which should have been obvious. So they went to work for Bullhorn. The plan was simple: lemonade stands. The idea was timely. It was midsummer and hot. It contributed to our community. It represented our company well. They pressed their white shirts. Got out their clip-on black bow-ties, and got to work.

The execution ended up with real lemons, sparkling water, champagne flutes, and a hand-chalked sign. And we went from extreme frustration to plenty of community good will.

Cheap labor is going to cost you.

If you reorient yourself to the culture of the organization and focus on how to provide value to the company, the interns, and the community, you can do something that is at least memorable, even if it isn’t directly profitable.