What do you look for in your hires, whether interns, employees, contractors, or vendors? Actually the priorities and importance can shift greatly for each one of these groups.
When hiring employees, people often focus on experience as a top priority, looking at qualifications like how many years they have spent in the industry, and what previous jobs they did that prepared them for the job you are hiring for.
When hiring contractors and vendors, talent tends to be the focus. You want someone who you know will deliver, who has a demonstrated expertise in the specialty you are hiring them for, and can probably do whatever it is you need them to do better/faster/cheaper than you could.
With interns, neither experience nor talent are necessarily good indicators of what a potential intern can do.
That’s because the experience often isn’t there, especially for students and younger interns.
They may have had a few relevant classes but their work experience is often times scooping ice cream, mowing lawns, bagging groceries, babysitting, and other similar-level jobs. Many have not worked in an office or a professional environment before. Now that is not necessarily the case with older, more mature interns who have had more work and life experience, but it still could be the first time they are working in your field or doing the type of work your internship offers.
And the point of an internship is to develop and hone talent.
Interns may have raw and basic skills (graphic design, for example), but they may not be refined or advanced. Perhaps they don’t have a keen design eye, fully out-of-the-box creative thinking, or the short cuts, inside secrets, and the big picture (yet). All of those things are exactly what a great internship is designed to do, helping them grow in these areas.
So if you are aiming to hire your interns purely based on experience or talent, you may very well miss the diamonds in the rough.
However, personality is something you are born with; it’s WHO you are. Along with that, character is something that one spends a lifetime building from a very young age. These are things like a sunny disposition, positive outlook, enthusiasm, willingness to learn, strong work ethic, confidence, good communication skills, follows directions, delivers on promises, integrity, maturity, and so on. These are the qualities and values that are more deeply rooted in the DNA.
That’s not to say that you should overlook interns who may need a confidence boost or help with their communications skills. That is where the mentorship side of the intern-supervisor relationship is key.
But what you do need to find out in the interview process is “Are they coachable?” Can they take and appreciate constructive criticism and incorporate feedback to change and grow?
We start coaching and mentoring from our very first contact with a prospective intern. For many, the interview they have with us is the first one they’ve ever been on. And in the process, we learn how coachable they are.
Case in point:
Julie called a prospective intern who had emailed her resume. The intern answered her phone with a “Yeah?” in a “What the hell do you want?” tone of voice.
Julie could have ended the call right there, but instead she said, “This is Julie from Super Interns, you submitted an application to intern with us.”
(The intern was mortified and dead silent. The crickets were noticeably audible.)
Julie said, “If you were selected for this internship, you would have to make calls to the press on our behalf. So if a reporter called you back, how would you answer the phone?”
Then, in the nicest, most professional manner she could muster, the prospective intern said, “Hi this is Jennifer (not her real name), how can I help you?”
Julie said, “Great! That’s exactly what we are looking for.”
They continued the rest of the interview, the intern was hired, and she ended up being one of our best and brightest, interning for close to 4 years with us.
If Julie had concluded the interview at the first “Yeah?” we would missed out on this truly stellar intern who just needed a little guidance and mentorship.
Danny Meyer, owner of Union Square Cafe in New York City and author of Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business says something to this effect, “I hire those who I’d like to invite over my house for dinner, break bread with, and get to know on a personal level. I can train anyone to carry a tray or open a bottle of wine, but I can’t train them how to be nice or interesting.”
Actually, whether it’s interns, employees, contractors, or vendors, personality, character, and coachability should be your top priorities in your hiring decision, followed by talent, and lastly, experience.
Michelle Demers is Co-founder and 1/2 of the Dynamic Duo of Super Interns . She is also Co-creator of The Super Interns System™, a step-by-step guide to creating, building, and growing winning internship programs. You can download a free copy of her ebook, “251 Super Internship Projects” at SuperInterns.com.