Ben Rosen is the founder and CEO of Inspiring Interns, a company set up in 2009 to help the job market connect the huge number of graduates looking for opportunities with employers looking for skilled workers. He is a former head-hunter in the mobile space and has set up and managed other companies before Inspiring Interns.
Q: Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
A: I’ve always had something of an entrepreneurial streak. Aged 13 I wanted to earn money so I set-up my own car washing business (which was quite successful!). When I was a little older I ran my own night at a local nightclub, at 21 I established an internet kiosk company and I was the first person in the UK to sell premium ringtones. I think the mark of an entrepreneur is someone who is not afraid to go out there and make mistakes, but makes sure they learn from them along the way.
Q: You started up right in the middle of the economic downturn? Was this a challenge or an advantage?
The best start-ups are the ones who use the recession to challenge established business thinking and come up with fresh new ideas.
A: Obviously there are inherent risks when starting a business in a downturn, but the best start-ups are the ones who use the recession to challenge established business thinking and come up with fresh new ideas. That’s what I believe we are doing with Inspiring Interns – we looked at the crisis in youth unemployment, looked at the problems companies faced when hiring young talent, and came up with a solution that helps both parties.
Q: Why did you decide to focus on internships?
A: As I alluded to in the last question, we alighted upon the concept of internships as a great tool to allow companies to minimise their risk when hiring inexperienced staff, while giving graduates the opportunity to create and earn positions that may not have been there without the internship. A three month placement gives the intern the chance to learn lots of new hands-on skills and make themselves indispensible, and therefore move into permanent employment.
Q: What steps do you take to keep ahead of your competitors?
A: We are very proactive when dealing with candidates and clients. Each client has a dedicated account manager who will swiftly respond to any queries or issues they have, while we spend a lot of time on our social media channels talking to students and graduates and answering their questions. Essentially we feel that as long as we are providing a superb service, our customers (and future customers) won’t be tempted to try our competitors.
Q: Why do you think so many graduates are considering internships?
A: Unfortunately graduates are coming out of university to be confronted with the stark reality that a degree on its own is not enough to secure a job, particularly in such a competitive employment market. An internship provides that stepping stone between student life and the working world – it is a vocational learning experience that more often than not will lead to a job.
Q: What challenges did you face when starting up Inspiring Interns and how did you overcome them?
Another problem we had to tackle was how to engage with graduates – there is a fine line between communicating with young people and patronising them
A: One of the main challenges was tackling ignorance around what internships were. Both companies and graduates were ill-informed as to what constituted an internship and how it would benefit them. Slowly but surely we have raised awareness, obviously helped by their increasing prominence.
Another problem we had to tackle was how to engage with graduates – there is a fine line between communicating with young people and patronising them. By building a young team who were recent graduates themselves (the average age of our staff is 24) we were able to do so with genuine authenticity.
Q: The law around internships is understandably sensitive. How do you ensure you always remain fully compliant?
We are very aware that there are some well-documented cases of companies abusing the internship system and we take great care to ensure our clients understand the law and stay on the right side of it. We have regular dialogues with relevant people within the Government regarding internship policy and make it clear to the interns that if they feel they are being treated incorrectly they should come to us immediately and we will help resolve the issue. We refuse to work with businesses who do not comply with our strict guidelines.
Q: What advantages do you think internships offer to employers?
A: Internships offer employers the chance to hire someone on potential rather than experience. A three month internship period allows them to offer the intern training and the chance to observe them in the workplace before committing to taking them on permanently. This limits their risk and allows them to take a candidate on who they would not have otherwise.
Q: What part will interns play in the future recruitment landscape?
Internships helps create positions for university leavers and as such are becoming a firm feature of the path from university to employment.
A: I think internships are here to stay. Even if the economy recovers any time soon (which looks unlikely) we still have a situation where record numbers of students are graduating every year and are competing for a limited number of jobs. Internships helps create positions for university leavers and as such are becoming a firm feature of the path from university to employment. The one change I can envisage is that more students will complete internships during university rather than afterwards, which is more like the European model of work experience.
Q: Start-up businesses often have trouble with recruitment costs and the costs of taking on full-time staff. Do you think internships and start-up businesses work well together?
A: Internships and start-up businesses are made for each other. The start-up gets the chance to train a young person in their working practices and see if they have the potential to be a permanent member of staff, while the intern gets to see how a company is run in close quarters. Interning in a start-up gives you the opportunity to turn your hand to lots of different areas of business and learn from senior decision makers first hand. Interning in large blue chips has its advantages but is a very different type of experience.