When it comes to hiring interns, the challenges you might face are quite different from the challenges of hiring seasoned professionals. Typically we rely on a candidate’s work history or references to gauge their qualifications for the role, but those signals are distinctly missing for most intern applicants.
Internships are designed to help early-career job seekers gain relevant work experience in a field that interests them. For this reason, applicant pools for internships mostly consist of college students, recent grads, or people looking to switch careers by entering a new field. What all these applicants usually have in common, however, is that they generally lack relevant job experience. But this shouldn't discourage you from trying to hire the best and the brightest interns for your team.
Ultimately, the approach for hiring interns should be distinct from the way that you hire other types of roles. Here are a couple of tips for sourcing and evaluating great interns.
1. Offer Paid Internships
If you want to attract the best interns, consider offering a paid internship. Some companies may view internships as a way to gain access to free labor, but ultimately if you’re expecting someone to do work for your company, it feels fair to pay them. Moreover, unpaid internships have more requirements under the Department of Labor’s regulations, particularly when it comes to ensuring that the intern is the main beneficiary of the experience.
Even more importantly, paid internships can help you attract a more diverse workforce. Many students or recent grads can’t afford to take an unpaid internship, and by offering only unpaid internships, your company may be unintentionally screening out a large portion of the population.
2. Emphasize Learning Opportunities
In your job descriptions, make sure to heavily emphasize what the applicant will learn. After all, internships are about building work experience and gaining new skills so that these job seekers can kick-start their careers. You can showcase this in the recruiting process by describing who the intern will be reporting to, and by outlining the general career trajectory someone might take following this role.
3. Offer the Opportunity for Full-Time Employment
While interns are eager to learn a lot through the course of their internship, what they really want more than anything is a full-time job. In one survey, 51% of interns said that the opportunity for full-time employment was the most important factor when considering which internship to take.
It isn’t always easy to make room for your interns to join the company full-time, especially if your organization is small or there’s low turnover. But if you can find ways to create promotion tracks or room for advancement, you’ll be able to attract great interns who are motivated to stay with you long-term.
4. Look for Transferable Skills
Your intern candidates may not have any relevant work experience, but that doesn’t mean the experiences they do have can’t translate into this role. In the interview phase, try to identify the transferable skills that your candidates demonstrate based on their experience in activities like extracurriculars, volunteering, sports, or even hobbies. You can learn a lot about a candidate’s critical thinking, problem solving, social skills, and even leadership ability by simply asking them to walk through some of their past experiences.
5. Put Less Stock in the Interview
Interviews can be somewhat unreliable when it comes to predicting job success at any level, and never is this more true than with interns. For many intern applicants, this could be one of their first interview experiences, so nerves are understandably high. When a candidate’s nerves are out of control, it can be really hard for them to accurately represent themselves. They might be perfectly confident and capable in normal social settings, but they’re just not used to the stress of the interview process. Look past the social awkwardness to see what the candidate could be capable of once they’re settled into the role.
That’s not to say you should ignore any red flags that may pop up during the interview. If an interview with an applicant leaves a bad taste in your mouth, you shouldn’t ignore that. But if it’s mostly just nerves, you can rest easy knowing that those nerves will probably fade away quickly once the intern is integrated into the team.
6. Use Aptitude Assessments to Evaluate Potential
When your applicants have limited job experience, and you can’t put too much stock in the interview, it helps to have a more objective measure of potential to turn to. Pre-employment assessments can help you identify applicants who have the most potential to learn quickly and adapt in the role. In fact, cognitive aptitude assessments in particular are one of the best predictors of job performance for any role because they measure core abilities like critical thinking and problem solving skills.
Because these assessments are so successful at predicting long-term job performance, they’re particularly useful for hiring interns that you plan to hire full-time. You want to make sure that your full-time hires have the potential to take on new responsibilities and adapt what they’ve learned into their new roles.
Hiring interns can be challenging because your applicants have so little work experience to show what they can do. The bright side is that your intern hires may be your most eager and enthusiastic hires, and the key is to find ways to source and evaluate the best interns for the position.