Choosing an intern

work experience and unpaid work

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When they come about for the right reasons, an internship can be a wonderful two-way journey. Sure, the major benefit lies with the an intern, who enjoys a hands-on insight into a career they have in mind, but their ideas and enthusiasm can also rub off on their host, and potentially give them the inside running on someone who would be a great hire. That said, an intern with a bad attitude can wreak havoc, so you don’t want to leave it until induction to make sure you’ve chosen well. With this in mind, here’s five questions to ask yourself when assessing candidates.

Have they already made a start in the field?

An internship should build on a desire to work in your industry. So it’s only fair to look and see how they’ve already started trying to get their foot in the door and show their passion and commitment. If they want to be a writer in the print or digital realm, look for a personal blog, freelance writing or works of fiction. If their focus is more on a charitable role, see what organisations they already volunteer with. If they’re keen on photography, search to see if they have an online showcase. Remember that at the end of the day, passion matters. And if they’re already taking baby steps in the field, you can feel confident they want the internship for all the right reasons.

Will they be enthusiastic?

There’s nothing worse than an intern who’s there simply because it’s a requirement of their course – or their parents suggested it. In fact, choosing this sort of candidate is a pretty surefire way to get lumbered with someone who only wants to do stuff that excites them or that they are familiar with. Instead, look for someone who will obviously be willing to dive into any task they’re given and stick their head around any corner to see what’s going on. Just one tip – don’t mistake a loud or gregarious personality for enthusiasm, as this could rule out wonderful interns who might be a little shy to start with and then blossom as they get to know people. One good idea is to ask the applicant if they have any questions for you. Hands down, if they have queries which show knowledge of both your company and industry, you’ve found someone who doesn’t just want to intern, but who wants to intern with you.

Can we genuinely teach them something?

An internship has one key aim – to let them gain real insights into a field or specialisation they want to move into. But not all businesses within a field are the same. And it’s important to make the distinction, even if they can’t. For example, someone who has their heart set on becoming a radio announcer might look to intern with an audiobook creator in expectation of learning useful skills for voice work. And they probably will. But there’s a massive amount of extra work and knowledge that goes into announcing, meaning they might be best steered towards an actual radio station instead. Simple rule of thumb is this. If they can’t learn about a significant portion of their desired job from you, best to steer them clear, even if you think they would enjoy it.

Will they walk away with something practical they can use to move forward?

There’s a very fine line to walk in allowing interns to undertake hands-on activities, as they shouldn’t be doing practical work for which an employee would otherwise be paid. But that doesn’t mean you can only allow them to watch over everyone’s shoulders. Instead, look to identify areas where you could help them to develop their real-world skills. For example, an intern with the graphic design department of a public relations agency could be allowed – along with the rest of the team – to come up with some clever ideas for marketing collateral to promote a festival. The idea isn’t that you’ll use their work – unless it’s so good it deserves payment – but that you assign someone to give good honest feedback to help shape their idea into the best form it can take. That way, if a potential employer or internship asks what they’ve done, they can say quite honestly that they contributed to a PR pitch that was critiqued by a real-life account manager.

Will they make coffee?

Last, but not least, comes the coffee question. And it’s pretty important because it also harks back to enthusiasm. Real jobs aren’t fun and exciting all the time. There’s boring bits, sloggy bits and bits you just don’t enjoy. And a proper internship will have a slice of this too. So you don’t want someone who only wants to do the fun stuff. You want someone who is keen for a realistic picture of your industry and who will show their appreciation for the opportunity by pitching in where needed. That’s not to say you can treat them like Andy in The Devil Wears Prada , but a one-off request to go on a coffee run across the road is a reasonable ask. So sound them out early about doing menial tasks and, if their nose turns up, you might want to rethink any internship invitation.

Don’t forget that you should always induct interns . They may not need the full one-week induction or intensive sessions about the company’s products and plans that a new employee would receive, but they will still need to be across the basics of the company, such as an office tour and, of course, anything related to general safety in the workplace, as well as anything related to the tasks they will be performing.


Do you have any questions or great tips to share?


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