Jun 14

How to Approach the Intern Hiring Process

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (@NACEOrg) reports that almost 60 percent of employers who bring in college interns end up hiring them as employees. In fact, 40 percent of new college hires were once interns for their new employers. Clearly, the pipeline from intern to entry-level hire is a valuable and productive one for employers, giving them an opportunity to develop talent pools from within their organizations. The process of bringing in interns and converting them to new hires is a bit different, however, from the process of hiring any other entry-level employee.

The Value of Hiring Interns

According to Karen Fox, talent attraction manager at The Vanguard Group, as quoted by NACE, an internship is in essence “a very long interview, a 10-week interview. It takes into account the whole person. We see how well you perform and whether you will be good in a full-time position.” With that length of time to see a potential employee in action, you can feel confident that your new employee will be a good cultural fit in your organization as well.

A former intern requires far less training when brought on as a full-time employee, so you save on the hours (or even weeks) of onboarding required for other entry-level hires. Your interns already know how your workplace runs and whom to approach with questions. They’ve already shown company loyalty and proven their worth.

Another benefit of hiring your interns: Not only do they know your company well, but you know them. That means you can play to their strengths immediately, matching them with the optimal teams and tasks so they hit the ground running and provide value to your organization from day one.

Differences Between Interns and Entry-Level Hires

From the employer’s point of view, the key difference between an intern and an entry-level hire is obvious: The intern typically isn’t paid and doesn’t receive benefits. Often an intern will receive a small amount of college credit in lieu of pay. Interns aren’t paid because, while they can provide valuable services for an employer, they’re in your workplace to learn. Interns are typically college students, which means that they usually work for you part-time. Even though some summertime internships ask for a full-time commitment, such arrangements are for a closed-ended period.

Because interns are unpaid, it’s important for employers to avoid exploiting them. While it’s not necessary to expose sensitive material to them, interns should be placed in a position where they can truly learn about your company and your field. If you choose your interns well, you are likely to find people with a fair amount to contribute and a great eagerness to learn and participate.

Differences in the Interview and Employment Process

If you choose to bring interns into your organization, you’re starting with a smaller pool, which makes the interviewing and onboarding process much more efficient. Campus recruiting centers can help you target potential interns who already have college majors or experience that feed into your business, and campus job fairs bring out proactive students who are likely to maintain their go-getting ways when they arrive for work.

When you bring in an entry-level hire, you probably focus on job experience. Interns, however, typically come to you with little relevant experience. They want to join your company to learn. Instead of asking interview questions to determine if they already know how to do the job, you should focus on cultural fit hiring and the individual’s potential. Is this intern candidate someone who will mesh well in your workplace and soak up everything members of your staff have to offer?

Think about the tasks you may ask this intern to perform, and look for some evidence of skills in those areas. For example, if you’re going to ask an intern to do any writing, it’s acceptable to ask for writing samples. You also want to target interns who demonstrate a sense of professionalism, even if they can’t afford, say, the high-end suits that people in your firm typically wear. Potential interns who seem intimidated simply to be outside the campus environment or who make mistakes due to their lack of experience may not be ready for a professional-level internship.

Another way in which interviewing an intern differs from interviewing any other entry-level hire arises when you look for demonstrated leadership and teamwork qualities. Because a college student doesn’t have the work experience of other job applicants, you may want to probe into their extracurricular activities, something that might be less appropriate with a non-student. Checking the intern candidate’s social media feeds can also give you a greater sense as to whether this is someone you want to bring into your organization.

In some areas, your interview with a prospective intern will overlap with what you’d expect to see from an entry-level hire. Just as with entry-level hires, you’re looking for interns who have done some research about your company and who have focused goals. It’s not out of line to expect a basic level of understanding in your field as well.

The advantages of hiring interns make this a fruitful path to consider when adding personnel to your team. Keep the differences between the two candidate pools in mind as you bring interns aboard and convert them to full-time employees.

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