Despite all the grim unemployment data, we've been on a hiring spree for the past two years -- from 23 full-time employees in 2007, to 52 last year, and 95 today.

As our headcount has quadrupled, one strategy we have increasingly relied on is promoting from within -- starting with the interns we hire in the summer. I wish I could say this was an intentional HR strategy, but we aren't that smart. It wasn't until I noticed that approximately 10 percent of our employees are former interns that I came to fully appreciate the benefits of this approach.

First, we hire people who are proven to work with our company. By the time our interns join us as employees, they are already pretty far along the Honest Tea learning curve. And perhaps most important, they have already demonstrated that they know how to work with our team and our culture, which is critical to our brand.

There's no better proof this strategy works than looking at the roles former interns play within our company today. A few of our success stories include:

- Blaine, West Division Sales Manager -- In charge of managing all sales activity with West Coast distributors, including our new Coca-Cola distributors

- Mike, Product Development Manager -- Takes the lead on managing the formulation and sourcing on all our products

- Patrick, National Field Marketing Manager -- Oversees a team of 14 marketing managers plus their "road warriors" (summer interns)

- Kassidy, Business Development Manager -- Also our National Foodservice Manager

Of course, these folks didn't rise directly from intern to manager. They proved themselves whenever they were tested, and even though we always interviewed outside candidates for the positions, our proven internal candidates turned out to have an Honest edge.

Another benefit of this strategy is that everyone who works in our organization, including our interns, understands there are opportunities for advancement, and so they are highly motivated to perform. We're still hiring our interns for 2009, so if you know someone ready to move some cases, check out our website.