Interns – How to be a Great One and How to Find and Hire Them

Guest Author: Carey Ransom, CEO at RealPractice, Adjunct Faculty-School for Professional Studies at Vanguard University and seasoned entrepreneur.

At RealPractice, we welcome and value interns.  Over the last few months, we’ve interviewed dozens and hired several interns in our Marketing, Product, and Engineering teams.  I believe they’d tell you that they were each welcomed with open arms, treated like every other employee here, and were immediately given opportunities to contribute and learn.  Many of us here started as interns with various companies earlier in our careers, so we value the fresh insights and eagerness interns bring, as well as our opportunity to mentor them.  Interns create great energy in an office.  Internships also provide a very cost-effective way to have extended evaluations of potential employees, and for potential future employees to evaluate the company.

Last week I learned about a newer company that is trying to help the internship matching process – YouTern. They are attempting to coordinate students, employers, and even college/university career centers, and bring them together in a useful and productive way.  I’m interested to see how they do.

In the legal industry, summer associate positions are a traditional part of the profession, and historically these internships pave the way to future employment opportunities.  Whether an opportunity arises with the summer firm or not, internships provide the experiences and contacts that frequently lead to full-time employment.  (In fact, one of our great team members at RealPractice recently departed to go work with a couple of attorneys he met while a summer associate at a different firm).

Now, for potential interns, how to get hired and be a good one:

1. Clearly demonstrate that you have initiative, leadership and accomplishment.  Have good examples to share in your interview.  A great intern accepts his/her spot at the bottom of the totem pole, but shows their interest in learning quickly and immediately contributing to the team.

2. Show that you will be easy to manage and a good cultural fit.  Make sure you know what you’re walking into – is it a laid back culture, fast-paced, flat or hierarchical?  Do your research and make sure you are a good match. While capability is going to be evaluated, fit is more important to most interviewers of interns.  They want someone who will take on projects and easily fit in and be productive – you have the ability to make your intern manager look good, so make them understand that you will!

3. Truly care about the business and its goals.  You may only be there for a few months, so think about how you can make your mark and impact.  Look for opportunities to solve issues, even if somewhat small and overlooked.  Study what competitors are doing well and how your business can improve.

4. Understand what your intern manager, and his/her boss, care about and try to help.  You may want to do this somewhat quietly and on the side, if these items are outside your assignments, but understanding their priorities is critical for your overall evaluation and building relationships with them.

For companies/firms hiring interns, here are characteristics and experiences I’d suggest to look for and how to evaluate potential interns:

1. Look for a record of accomplishment in school, not just in the classroom, but also in outside activities.  Look for substantial accomplishments there, and not just someone who is there.  How did they achieve the accomplishments?

2. Look for interns who are proactive and a leader.  In the classroom or groups, look for that person who makes things better.  You don’t need to look to the president of the group; in fact he/she may just be popular and not the best contributor.  You want to find an actual leader and someone who leads with their actions.

3. Look for interns who go above and beyond what’s expected.  Ask potential interns to share stories where they demonstrated such behavior in previous situations.

4. Look for interns who fit your culture, and make sure you know what your culture actually is.  Even though interns are likely to only be with you for a few months, they can enhance or disrupt your culture.  Apply the same “fit” guidelines for an intern as a full-time hire, so you don’t cause unnecessary challenges.  We have a “no jerk” rule.  It doesn’t matter how talented he/she might be, we don’t have room for jerks in our company.

If you have other thoughts about interns and internships, please feel free to share them with us as well.

You can connect with Carey directly via twitter @ransomthoughts, on LinkedIn at careyransom, or his company blog:

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