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Advice for Employers and Recruiters

How 18 employers improved how they hire interns

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Anita Jobb AvatarAnita Jobb
February 14, 2024

One of College Recruiter’s core values is continuous improvement. We try to learn from our mistakes, do better the next time, and build on our wins.

Many and probably most employers are no different. They understand that, no matter how well run their internship program might be, there will always be aspects that they want to improve on. If nothing else, they intrinsically know what worked well last year might not work well this year, because the world in which they operated last year was different than what they’ll experience this year.

We recently asked 18 employers to share with us a specific improvement their organization — or one they previously worked at — made in its hiring process for interns.

  • Focus on Enthusiasm Over Resumes
  • Request Video Applications
  • Source Interns at Job Fairs
  • Advertise Learning Opportunities
  • Conduct Calls to Verify Assignments
  • Replace Resumes with Pre-Employment Tests
  • Create a Dedicated Intern Recruitment Team
  • Implement Skills-Based Assessments
  • Assess Adaptability with Paid Tasks
  • Leverage Past Interns for Campus Events
  • Use Structured Interview Guides
  • Commit to Fairly Paid Internships
  • Introduce Hands-On Project Assessments
  • Incorporate Gamified Selection Challenges
  • Showcase Commitment to Diversity
  • Emphasize Skills in Job Descriptions
  • Host an ‘Intern Insight Day’
  • Rethink Internship as Learning Process

Focus on Enthusiasm Over Resumes

One significant improvement we made in our hiring process for interns was shifting our focus more toward a candidate’s personality and eagerness to learn, rather than solely on their qualifications on paper. We started valuing enthusiasm and a genuine interest in growing with the company over a perfect resume. This approach led us to bring on board individuals who were not only a great cultural fit but also quickly adapted and grew into their roles, proving that a willingness to learn often outweighs pre-existing qualifications.

Juan Carlos Munoz, Co-Founder, CC Creative Design

Request Video Applications

When you are looking to hire interns, you aren’t relying on experience or even education all the time; instead, a lot of the time, you can rely on gut instinct based on what they show you in interviews or applications and how their passion comes through.

This is why, with applications for internships, I find it really beneficial to ask for a video application—just a short presentation on who they are and why they’re interested in this role. I do this because I feel it can be a lot easier to see someone’s interest and passion through a video recording as opposed to just the written word. It also gives the applicants a chance to show some creativity in what they send, which allows me to feel more confident in who I take forward in the process.

I am a content creator, so it may seem odd not to have them write in their initial application, but that can be another part of the process, and at the start, I want to see inspiration.

Brett Downes, Founder, Haro Helpers

Source Interns at Job Fairs

Attending job fairs has proven valuable and time-efficient for my recruiting firm in sourcing fresh talent for internships and entry-level positions. Since I started sending some of my recruiting agency representatives to these events, we’ve been able to maintain an excellent pipeline of talented young professionals.

I stay connected with career services at nearby colleges and universities to get informed about their career/internship fairs. The face-to-face interaction with students has even, on occasion, helped us fill internship positions instantly, enabling us to spot enthusiastic individuals with the necessary knowledge for the role. Rather than elongating the process by filtering through dozens of applications and following up with interviews, job fairs allow direct interaction with your target audience, often leading to successful hires without even having to formally advertise a position on LinkedIn or job boards.

While I feel that casting a wider net is essential for full-time positions, interns are best recruited by meeting them face-to-face since they don’t have much to show for themselves on their resumes anyway, and meeting them in person can provide a better idea of their skill level and interests.

Joe Coletta, Founder & CEO, 180 Engineering

Advertise Learning Opportunities

At our recruiting firm, we have started asking our clients to specify some form of training and experience they’ll offer their interns, rather than solely treating them as an extra pair of hands. Ever since we’ve optimized our intern recruiting processes by describing the positions as worthwhile learning opportunities, we’ve been successful in attracting ambitious young workers, many of whom were later onboarded full-time by their employers.

From my observation, talented students and fresh graduates are increasingly seeking out internships that will train them for future jobs and help them look experienced enough to potential employers. Even if you’re offering decent pay, it’s essential to figure out the specifics that set the internship position apart and mention those wherever you have posted your internship ads. For instance, if you’re looking for a Digital Marketing Intern, mentioning something like, ‘Get hands-on experience on projects with six-figure marketing budgets,’ can appeal to young professionals eager to build their portfolios.

Ben Lamarche, General Manager, Lock Search Group

Conduct Calls to Verify Assignments

Previously, we simply gave the assignment as a test, and if they passed, we would hire them. Although this worked wonderfully in hiring a bunch of great interns, the problem was that a few were good at the assignment but, after joining, were not able to complete their tasks. Sometimes, interns use others to write the assignment who know the work, which helps them pass the test. To prevent this and improve the hiring process and retention rate, our HRs have started taking a 10-minute call with the interns who pass the assignment. We ask them on the call about themselves, how they wrote the test, the steps, etc. It’s not to judge them, but to know if they have written it or not. An intern who has written their assignment will tell all the steps without any hesitation, and those who haven’t will feel lost. This has helped us tremendously to hire the best interns.

Ravi Sharma, Founder & CEO, Webomaze

Replace Resumes with Pre-Employment Tests

For intern recruitment, the biggest change came when we stopped relying on resumes for screening.

Even for graduate recruitment, resumes reveal almost nothing meaningful about a population who have never held a full-time job. Consequently, resumes are used as proxies for writing ability, screening out candidates with poorly written resumes, regardless of their content.

Although this was a crude screening tool before, now that AI is writing resumes on an industrial scale, they simply offer no meaningful insight into an internship candidate.

Instead, pre-employment testing and video interviewing should be used to short-list candidates, providing a far more evidence-based approach for screening and short-listing. These assessments are significantly more scalable than resume sifting ever was, while also dramatically increasing the quality of hire.

Ben Schwencke, Business Psychologist, Test Partnership

Create a Dedicated Intern Recruitment Team

We improved the intern hiring process by establishing a dedicated intern recruitment team. This team focuses solely on the intern-hiring process, ensuring that candidates receive the attention and guidance they need. The specialized team has enabled a more personalized and efficient recruitment process, significantly enhancing the candidate experience and attracting higher-quality applicants to our intern program.

David Gaglione, Founding Partner, PS212

Implement Skills-Based Assessments

At Startup House, we made a significant improvement in our hiring process for interns by implementing a skills-based assessment. Instead of solely relying on resumes and interviews, we created a practical task that allowed candidates to showcase their abilities and problem-solving skills. This not only helped us identify the most talented individuals but also provided a fair and equal opportunity for all applicants, regardless of their educational background or previous experience. By focusing on skills rather than credentials, we were able to discover hidden gems and bring in interns who brought fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to our team. This improvement not only enhanced the quality of our internships but also contributed to a more diverse and inclusive work environment.

Alex Stasiak, CEO & Founder, Startup House

Assess Adaptability with Paid Tasks

As a blogger and content creator, I frequently hire interns for various tasks such as content writing, video editing, and social media management. One significant improvement we’ve made in our hiring process is to focus on the candidate’s adaptability and learning curve. To gauge this, we provide selected applicants with a paid task followed by a request for specific revisions. Our preference leans toward individuals who can implement those changes effectively and with minimal guidance. This approach has streamlined our hiring process and ensures we onboard individuals who are agile, quick learners, and can contribute to our dynamic work environment efficiently.

Kripesh Adwani, Founder, BuzzBeam LLC

Leverage Past Interns for Campus Events

I worked at a consulting firm that dramatically improved the quality of the interns it hired—and, in doing so, created a fantastic pipeline of proven talent—by working with past interns to run events on their college campuses and share more about why an internship with the company was a great opportunity. This grassroots marketing led to a significant increase in the number of students applying for internships, allowing the consulting firm to choose the best of the best. This became a self-reinforcing feedback loop as the best and brightest then did internships at that company and started to work there after graduation, and helped recruit other great students a few years behind them in college to join the firm as well. Pursuing a ‘quality over quantity’ strategy dramatically paid off.

Grant Hensel, CEO, Nonprofit Megaphone

Use Structured Interview Guides

We improved our intern hiring process by implementing structured interview guides that focus on behavioral and situational questions. This standardized approach ensures consistency across all interviews, allowing us to fairly assess each candidate’s skills and potential fit within our company culture. 

By focusing on how candidates have handled specific situations in the past, we’ve been able to gain deeper insights into their problem-solving abilities, teamwork skills, and adaptability. This method has significantly improved our ability to select interns who not only excel in their roles but also thrive in our company environment.

Hardy Desai, Founder, Supple Digital

Commit to Fairly Paid Internships

My business does not hire unpaid interns. The whole idea behind having people work for free is deeply flawed. If you’re doing work, you should be paid. If you’re not working, there’s no reason for you to be here. Paying interns fairly allows you to draw from a larger and more diverse talent pool. Ultimately, that is better for my business and the interns themselves.

Temmo Kinoshita, Co-Founder, Lindenwood Marketing

Introduce Hands-On Project Assessments

One significant improvement a technology organization I was involved with made in its hiring process for interns was the introduction of a more hands-on, project-based assessment during the interview. Instead of focusing solely on resumes and traditional interviews, we implemented a practical component where candidates were given a small, real-world problem related to our current projects. They had to either code a solution, design a system architecture, or outline a project plan, depending on the role they applied for.

This approach allowed us to assess not just the theoretical knowledge of the candidates but also their problem-solving skills, creativity, and ability to work under time constraints. It provided valuable insights into how they would handle real tasks and collaborate with team members. Additionally, it made the process more engaging for the candidates, giving them a taste of the kind of work they would be doing and allowing them to showcase their skills beyond what’s on paper. This change led to more effective matches between interns and the needs of our projects, enhancing the overall internship experience and the value both the interns and the organization derived from it.

David Shuster, Managing Director, Managed IT Experts

Incorporate Gamified Selection Challenges

We revolutionized our intern hiring process by introducing gamified assessments during the selection phase. These interactive challenges not only allowed us to evaluate candidates’ problem-solving skills dynamically but also made the application process more engaging for students. This innovative approach has helped us identify talents who thrive in creative and pressure-driven environments, making the selection process both effective and enjoyable. The positive feedback from candidates about this unique experience has significantly boosted our appeal as an innovative and forward-thinking employer.

Thaddeus Wendt, Partner & CEO, Feller Wendt, LLC

Showcase Commitment to Diversity

In my previous workplaces, they focused on supporting their new and young employees, including interns. People who are just starting their careers, especially the younger ones, are now looking closely at potential employers. With so much information available, a job seeker can learn about a company just as well as the company can check them out. Websites like LinkedIn, Handshake, and Glassdoor provide insights into what it’s like to work at a company. Also, talking to someone who works there or has worked there can give a more complete picture.

Everyone who has worked with you, whether they’re current employees, past job candidates, or former interns, can tell their own story about your company. It’s really important for all new employees, especially those from minority groups or without four-year degrees, to see that a company cares about people like them. Showing that your company is committed to its workers can make your employees feel more confident and connected. This can be done in a few ways. For example, having leaders who have similar experiences or backgrounds as your new hires can say a lot about your company’s culture. This means your leaders should be as diverse as the people you’re bringing in. Careful planning to make sure these new interns contribute to specific parts of your company is key. If you’re thinking about hiring a diverse group of people, make sure your company is ready to bring in at least 5–25 new people, depending on how big your company is.

Henry Brook, Founder, The Page

Emphasize Skills in Job Descriptions

A few years ago, we faced a talent shortage in key areas of the company. We also had a few positions that required candidates who didn’t have a college degree. So, we decided to re-evaluate our recruitment approach to a skills-first strategy to broaden our talent pool. With the help of other departments, the HR team re-evaluated job descriptions to help find skills and expertise for various roles within the company. All vacant positions were studied to identify the specific skills required.

Using the information acquired, they crafted job descriptions that emphasize core skills and abilities over general credentials assumed to be possessed by degree holders. For example, a software developer job description listing the degree and experience required for the role would be rewritten to include the specific skills needed to succeed in the role, such as familiarity with AI and machine learning. We also ensured this skills-first hiring approach is reflected in our interview process, allowing us to develop questions that focus on hiring the best talent for our company.

Logan Nguyen, Co-Founder,

Host an ‘Intern Insight Day’

To refine our intern hiring strategy, we initiated an ‘Intern Insight Day,’ an open-house event where prospective interns are invited to participate in workshops, meet team members, and work on mini-projects related to their fields of interest. This immersive experience allows candidates to showcase their skills in a practical setting while gaining a better understanding of our company culture and the types of projects they would be involved in. 

The event has proven to be a crucial step in our hiring process, offering a deeper mutual assessment opportunity beyond traditional interviews. It’s led to more informed hiring decisions and allowed us to attract candidates who are genuinely enthusiastic about joining our team and contributing to our mission.

Michael Nemeroff, CEO & Co-Founder, Rush Order Tees

Rethink Internship as Learning Process

To improve our hiring process for interns, we changed the way our hiring process worked. Instead of assigning pointless tasks to interns, we created a learning process where interns would get exposure to different areas of the company, essentially helping them to understand the general workings of the business and how their role (if we hire them) would fit into that entire system.

The good thing about this method is that it not only shows interns how they’d fit into the company but, depending on the job they’re applying for and how flexible it is, it can also give them an idea of which areas they’d like to focus on. We’re then able to fine-tune their internship experience for the remainder of the process and help them learn more about the specifics of that role.

Lauren Carlstrom, COO, Oxygen Plus

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