Hiring someone for a job is hard, but hiring an intern who might have no experience is even harder. Here are the intern interview questions you need to start asking.
There is a moment when you realize: your intern sucks.
It happens when you’re explaining for the fifth time what to put in the daily report. When you find your intern in the break room every time you refill your coffee. When you’re having a serious discussion, and find yourself looking into your intern’s blank gaze.
Don’t get stuck with an unmotivated, unenthusiastic intern who doesn’t fit into your workplace.
You want to hire a rockin’ intern: someone who can help you do your job, take initiative, and handle responsibility.
Hiring an intern is challenging. You’re hiring someone who may have zero relevant experience. Many of the candidates will have identical education, and you’re racing against other businesses to get the best interns. Who can blame candidates for taking the first internship offer they get?
The best way to hire a great intern is to make the most of every interview. You can start by asking the right intern interview questions that will get your candidates to reveal their potential. (Click here to tweet these questions.)
What to look for when interviewing a potential intern
In 30 minutes (or less!) you need to get a clear picture of the person sitting across from you. Here are skills to look for in an amazing intern candidate:
- Supervision: Can the candidate work unsupervised? You don’t want to have to check up on this person constantly. Ask: “When have you taken charge of a situation by yourself?”
- Organization: Does the intern candidate keep a schedule, a planner, or a calendar? These are good signs. Ask: “How do you get everything done when you have a lot to do?”
- Preparation: Is this person prepared for the interview? Someone who thinks ahead is an asset. Notice: Did he or she bring a resume? The job description? References?
- Fit: An intern needs to fit into your team. Do you get along during the interview? You’ll want to be open and friendly if you want your candidate to be himself, too. Ask: “What was the best vacation you took recently?”
- Performance under pressure: Can the candidate handle things on the fly? You don’t want someone who shuts down when things get hairy. Ask: “Have you ever had to step in for your boss or someone else?”
- Ambition: How ambitious is this person? Does he or she want to learn? Ask: “What’s one thing you really hope to learn from this internship?”
- Communication: Can the internship candidate talk to strangers? Until landlines become as extinct as the dinosaurs, you’ll need someone who can communicate the old school way. By talking to actual people. Notice: How comfortable the intern candidate is talking to you, and if he or she has leadership qualities.
Intern interview red flags
You might be able to tell right away whether a potential intern is a good fit. If you’re not sure, watch for any of these red flags. You’ll at least know who not to hire.
- The candidate doesn’t know anything about your company. If someone doesn’t bother to read a website and rattle off a few facts, he or she clearly is not motivated enough to work for you.
- The candidate shows up late for the interview. Really? When is being late to an interview ever acceptable?
- The candidate has no questions at the end of the interview. If an intern is not interested in the job, that person does not deserve the job.
Tips for smooth intern interviews
It’s easy to conduct a bad interview: don’t do any planning. A great interview can be more difficult to anticipate. But a few key qualities to aspire to: a great interview doesn’t waste time, moves quickly, and gets you the answers you need.
- Review the candidate’s resume briefly before the interview. Keep the resume out, so you can ask at least one specific question about the candidate’s experience or schooling.
- Have a prepared spiel about your company and job. You’ll need to give an overview about the company, and what the job entails. Don’t waste time rambling.
- Do the interview with at least one other person. You may have the last word, but another person’s perspective can give a more complete picture of an interviewee.
- Schedule a few minutes for notes and discussion after the intern candidate has gone. Writing your thoughts or discussing the interview immediately after is key to keeping multiple candidates straight. Clip notes and resumes together to keep track of everything.
Narrow down your candidates
You’ve got your interview notes and it’s hiring time. What do you do when it’s tough to decide?
- Review the requirements. Look over the bullet points that describe the internship position in the original job posting. Review the resumes and your notes, asking yourself who is the best fit.
- Grades don’t count for everything, but they do count for something. Soft skills don’t show up on a transcript, but grades can be a good way to separate candidates who are close.
- Rate candidates as “A”, “B” or “C”. The As are the best, Bs are OK, and Cs didn’t blow you away. Whatever you do, don’t write any of your candidates off until you’ve hired someone. If you were impressed by a particular internship applicant, chances are other companies were too. If you don’t choose fast enough, you might end up hiring someone you rated “C.”
If you want to hire a rockin’ intern, put some thought into interviewing. Your chosen intern won’t be working with you forever, but you do want to make sure you hire someone you’ll be excited to work with for the short term.
Heather Sinclair is an engineer and project manager with nearly 10 years experience. She is a co-founder of The Travel Type, where she encourages professionals to combine personal growth with travel.