Monday, October 19, 2009

Recruiting Interns

A friend of mine has a cool start-up that is really gaining traction. She wrote:
"I thought of you yesterday, Matt. I'm dealing with hiring interns (it's been a nightmare so far!). I hired an intern who worked one day and then asked me if he could use me as a reference on his resume. Ugh. Remind me again why you love this process so much! : ). You're freaky!"

Here were some of my thoughts:

  • Don't sacrifice on quality, but give on everything else. Look for an impressive, creative, or a cool past job experience. Compromise on work assignments, hours, days they work, tools you can get them, exposure to cool projects, whatever .... Give them free reign, a "professional playground." Make sure you give a real resume building experience and make that appealing to applicants. This will likely mean that you can't rely on them to deliver for your next deadline (or format that boring report) but they'll bring value.
  • Pay something. If you can avoid making the internship unpaid, do it. Pay $5/hour stipend, train fair, buy lunch... Anything you offer makes a big difference over the other completely unpaid opportunities out there.
  • Write a fun, creative, different, but realistic posting - this is a lengthy topic by itself, but spend some time. Explain your company, what you are looking for, the perks, and make it fun! Free posting spots should be able to give you what you want. I like (its free). Another good place to start an intern search is, of course,
  • Add fun screening questions that applicants must answer in order to get a response. This helps cut through the spam-of-crap applicants and can give a real glimpse of personality, drive, and quality. For example, Tell me a joke? Which of our current clients do you like most and why? What was a favorite viral video in the last year and why? Simple questions relating to the work are good too! What resource would you use for arranging travel from SF to NY? What are some common tasks of a PR company? State you are busy and will only respond to applicants that answer all of your questions. Very few candidates will respond to individual questions and the ones that do will really want the job.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but I've found these steps helpful. What are good recruiting tips you have used? How have your internship experiences worked out?


  1. I'm not HR and I've only hired a few interns, but they all worked out. In one case, I called the Vo-Tech high school and got a kid they recommended to help with light office work. No pay, but he got something for his resume and I would take him out to lunch.

    In another, I called the university and got three sociology/anthropology students to work with the co-op of indigenous women where I was assigned as a Peace Corps volunteer. I didn't have any budget to pay them, but I let them use the office computer after hours, which was a big deal because this was 1993 and we were in Chile where a computer on every desktop was not common.

    My last intern was from Vanderbilt business school. We picked three possibles from the resumes and brought them in for interviews. I was shocked when one of them asked me, basically, why on earth she should work for us. (This was 2001 or so and the economy was not that great.) She was immediately off the list: she was there to tell me what she could do for me. But the guy and I hit it off. He was professional and smart and interesting. We hired him, then hired him full time and he is still a friend.

  2. Hey class-factotum - thanks for the ideas. It's a great idea to reach out to local schools with a related focus for the work you need! Also fantastic to think out of the box in regards to rewards / payment. Think of how things you have bring value, that might not traditionally be considered comp (in your case, simply using the computer!).

    It's funny that an intern would ask why you would want her. Of course, interns and all applicants should show they want you. I don't even like it when an applicant tells me they are interviewing at other places. Pointing this outs demonstrates they aren't focused and tuned in to my position :-(.

    Great to hear your experiences! Thanks.