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Ask an Expert: Advice for bringing interns onto the team

So, you’ve decided to bring on an intern! Interns can be a valuable asset to your organization, and it can also be rewarding to help someone further their career goals. We talked with Alexis Perrotta, the editor of Idealist Careers, about what strategies she uses when hiring an intern.

Q: Interns are typically either in college or still in the early stages of their career, meaning that they likely don’t have much experience in the workplace. What are things you look for in an intern and how do assess whether or not potential candidates have those skills or attributes?

A: I start with the basics, as I would with most candidates/hires: Did they include all requested materials in their application? Did they follow any specific instructions? Are there egregious typos or errors in their materials? Once I get through that, it’s important to me that I get a sense from an intern candidate that they are interested in the actual mission of the organization and that they really understand our work and what we’re all about. And finally, I keep an eye out for professionalism, any signs of office etiquette, and good time management practices. These can be observed in details such as their interview attire, acknowledging all the interviewers in the room, and if they ask thoughtful questions.

Q: What strategies do you employ to make sure interns are getting the most out of their experience?

A: I try to make sure that interns have access to all of the same managerial and mentoring elements as any other staff member:regular check-ins, specific projects with measurable goals, milestones, and post-project reflection, and participation in any in-office social events that may be happening during intern hours. I also remind my interns that if there is something new they want to learn during their internship, or some professional goal they’d like to achieve, they should absolutely speak up! If it’s relevant to the work they’re doing with us, I do my best to make it happen (within reason!).

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to someone looking to hire an intern, what would it be?

A: While spending time training a new intern can be time consuming, it is also par for the course. But remember that interns are often digital natives and quick learners, so don’t worry too much if a candidate doesn’t have experience with your specific email marketing or content management system. Instead, focus on what an interviewee says when you get a chance to meet in person to see what of their experience is transferable, such as previous work with WordPress when your organization is in need of someone to manage a blog or writing experience when you’re looking for someone with editing chops. If you find a promising candidate who truly understands and identifies with the complexity of your organization’s issue area, and is able to ask and answer real questions about your mission, they may still be a keeper!

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