A Foolproof Guide to Hiring Interns


Most internships are short term, but that doesn’t mean organizations should cut corners when it comes to hiring interns. Maintaining a thorough hiring process for intern candidates ensures that none of the investment being made in the program is going to waste.
At Whole Whale, we hire interns via a 3-step process. This includes screening applicants, assigning a project, and holding a formal interview before extending an offer to the best candidate. Investing in the process allows hiring managers to be confident that we’re always bringing on the best humans. Learn more about our hiring process below.

The 3 Pillars of Hiring Interns

1. Screen applicants

Once you’ve eliminated all the cover letters that ignored the prompt in the job description, it’s time to start screening potential interns. Set up 15 minutes phone calls with top applicants to get a better feel for them. These screenings aren’t meant to guide hiring managers to their final decision — rather, they give managers an opportunity to heat-check the people behind the papers they’ve been scouring, and they breathe a little life into the stacks of resumes.
This initial interview should be short — again, 15 minutes is all it takes! Consider the following questions for your initial intern screening:

  • How did you hear about us?
  • Are you qualified to work in the U.S.? Can you be in office and meet the requirements of the job?
  • Why are you interested in our organization?
  • Tell me more about the roles or experience on your resume: What did you do? What did you like? What challenged you?
  • Is there anything you want to add that is not on your resume?
  • Do you have any questions for me?

Interviewers should pay extra attention to the questions that candidates ask them — are they thoughtful and curious? Beware of questions that are super generic, or that could have been answered by reading the website or job description. Hopefully, this short conversation will help narrow down the “maybe” pile when hiring interns.

2. Assign a project

The best way to get a sense for a potential intern’s work style and experience is to assign them a relevant project. After the initial screening, assign all remaining applicants a short project that is relevant to their potential role. This might be drafting social media content, writing an article for the site, or even pulling data from your organization’s Google Analytics account.
Leave the project fairly open-ended and give candidates some space to make it their own. This can give organizations a better idea of who the applicant is and what they are capable of delivering, in addition to serving as an example of how applicants perform with little oversight and guidance. Even when you’re hiring interns, it’s nice to feel like you have a sense of their work style.

3. Final interview

After you’ve reviewed the application projects, schedule follow-up interviews with the candidates that turned in the best ones. Use this time to ask follow-up questions about the project and the application’s thought process, but also to get a feel for how they might fit into your team. Are they a culture fit within the organization? Do they have passion for the cause? Do they demonstrate an ability to learn quickly? Are they a potential future hire? Are they efficient? Are they self directed? Focusing on these attributes can guide your organization towards choosing the highest-potential candidates.
It can still be difficult to get a feel for who candidates really are within the standard set of interview questions. Mixing in some out-of-the-box inquiries can give hiring managers a better sense of what these candidates  can bring to the table. Plus, it’s fun!

  1. Dogs or cats? Ketchup or mustard? Beach or mountains? A few of these rapid-fire this-or-that questions at the top of an interview can help break the ice, which puts the candidate at ease and minimizes the chances that nerves get in the way.
  2. Which campaign of ours is most exciting to you? Organizations should ask applicants what recent campaign, client, program, initiative, or event is most interesting or exciting to them. First, this shows the hiring manager whether or not the candidate did their homework and spent time getting to know the organization. It also serves a great extension to the “Why do you care about this cause?” question, and can provide insight into whether or not the candidate aligns well with the mission of the organization.
  3. Explain Google Analytics to me like I’m a 5 year old. Maybe it’s not Google Analytics. Maybe it’s SalesForce, Twitter, or even a social issue, like lack of access to healthcare. Asking this kind of question about a relevant tool or topic helps you to see whether or not the candidate really knows what they’re talking about: It takes a deep understanding of something to explain it simply. Also, it’s a way to test communication skills. Does the candidate know how to play to their audience?

Investing in hiring interns maximizes the chance of your nonprofit bringing on the most valuable people,and can even help bolster your full-time team. Have questions or tips of your own for hiring interns? Tweet us.
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