Interviewing (Many) Intern Applicants: A Few Guidelines

Anna Lewis, Former Senior Recruiter

Article Category: #News & Culture

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We’re at the height of internship recruitment season here at Viget, and that means I spend most of my time reviewing cover letters, resumes, work samples, and online portfolios for around 300 internship hopefuls. If an applicant seems promising, I conduct an initial interview; in the past seven weeks, I’ve conducted forty-five of them.

It would be impossible to handle our volume and maintain my pace without a few guidelines in place:

  1. Brevity. I keep each interview to fifteen minutes. I go longer only for especially strong applicants, either because I want to learn more about them or because I want them to be especially impressed with Viget and our internship program.
  2. Daily Maximum. I avoid booking more than four interviews on any given day, and I leave at least 15 minutes between interviews to document and share feedback with other reviewers. I’ve found that’s my limit before I start losing my mind track of who’s who.
  3. Consistency. You may be wondering: with only fifteen minutes of interaction, how can I possibly form accurate judgements of an applicant? The key here is to make all the conversations mostly the same. It’s the way in which each applicant establishes his or her uniqueness against a consistent backdrop that enables me to draw a judgement—and top applicants distinguish themselves almost immediately.  I use a template for each interview, which lists all the questions and information I want to cover. I follow the same order every time. And—this leads to my fourth guideline—
  4. Clear scope. I ask applicants only a few, straightforward questions and I aim to form judgements about only a few key things. This works because I know I can rely on other reviewers to draw further, different judgements (usually more focused on the nature of the applicant’s work and skills) later in our process.

Here’s the simple template I use:

Questions To Ask

  • Briefly introduce yourself.
  • What do you expect to do professionally after graduation?
  • How do you understand our internship as helping you achieve that professional goal?
  • Do you have any questions for me about Viget or our internship program?

Topics to Cover

  • stipend
  • location/housing/transport
  • laptop/software needs
  • summer dates/vacation
  • evaluation time frame/other offers

And here are the few things I aim to judge:

  • communication skills
  • basic professionalism
  • genuine commitment to technology and learning (aka a certain geek/nerd factor)

To be clear, I usually wind up forming a wide variety of other judgements along the way, but defining my scope and my responsibilities narrowly allows me to stay focused and on time. One of my top priorities is to give almost no indication to the applicant that I’m working with a template or structure, striving instead to engage the applicant in what feels like a natural and interesting conversation about his or her background, interests, and career goals. Because I have my template at hand, I can feel confident departing from it when that makes sense. Those are usually the stand-out moments that I enjoy the most—and which are highly correlated to speaking with a top applicant.

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