The Secret Sauce to Hiring Amazing Interns!

During Greentown Labs’s first ever Coffee Hour on Tuesday, February 18th, incubator members sat down and started crafting the perfect recipe to guarantee finding and hiring the best interns; those rare 1%.

Before we dive into the secret ingredients of the recipe, you might be wondering who the master ‘chefs’ were. There was a total of four chefs present, each with varying experiences and approaches to ‘cooking’. Let me introduce them to you!

Alexandra (Ali) Adler, previously Cleantech Open Northeast’s Executive Director and now Senior Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the NECEC, has been working with interns for the better part of her career. When hiring, the three things that she puts emphasis on are designing the perfect job description, identifying the skills of her interns, and leveraging the interns’ skills so that the employer gets the most out of it while the interns also get the most out of the job.

Ben Glass, the founder of Altaeros Energies, has been successfully hiring summer interns to help out with business, engineering and graphic design. Ben also has deep knowledge of the ‘recipes’ that can attract interns who have special skill sets.

Last but not least, Emily, the Executive Director of Greentown Labs, has been hiring interns through the MassCEC program. She applies the same principles from hiring a CEO to hiring an intern. She uses the AAWE model, Aptitude, Attitude, Willingness to learn, and Excellence or Experience.

Now that we have properly introduced our formidable chefs, we can get started on the ingredients of this recipe.

Step 1: Make a shopping list. Or – how to write a killer job description. 

As the chefs gathered around and started sharing their approach to this recipe, there was an interesting split on chefs who wanted to start with a clean and organized shopping list and others that didn’t.

  • Having a well-written and concise job description helps to guide applicants and interns and focus their efforts on what’s important
  • Use the job description to sell the job’s desirability and coolness – visualize will attract your target audience
  • The description of the job is less important than the description of your company and the qualities you’re looking for
  • GPA should be the first indicator of candidate quality but it is not the only indicator (Jeremy has had successes with candidates that did not have high GPAs)

Step 2: Where to buy your ingredients? Or – where do you start to recruit potential interns?

Here a few top intern marketplaces.

  • University head of an academic department
  • University hiring websites
  • University clubs
  • Your current intern’s networks!

Step 3: Grilling time.  Or – the interview questions that will give you the most bang for your buck.

When it comes to cooking, people have their own approaches.  But when you work with a master chef, the food always ends up being tasty.  Here are some of the most important questions that an employer can ask during the interview – the answers should be closely monitored!

  • What do you do in your free time? (Experience doing projects is invaluable. The biggest indicator of the ability to take ownership with minimal overhead is if the potential intern spends time doing projects outside of the classroom).
  • Extracurricular activities should not be overlooked. (This goes hand in hand with the above bullet point but more directed towards non-technical interviews)
  • What do you want to get out of this internship? (If what they want and what you want is not aligned, they are probably not the right fit for the job)
  • What drew you to this internship and our organization?
  • What are you excited about? (from their answer you can get a sense of their attitude and that’s going to be important when working with a small team)
  • Pick two things out of the resume and go deep with them, find out their working style and the hardest thing about the projects.
  • For a technical job, have the interns do a fairly challenging problem and observe their problem solving skills and what their logic process is to approaching a problem.
  • For a business job, have them write emails to you under a formal situation (being able to represent the company correctly is a big deal for a business position)

Step 4: How do you enjoy the carefully prepared meal? Or – how can you make best use of your new-found intern?

At last you have found your perfect intern!  Now you’re probably wondering how you can put your intern to appropriate use and boost the productivity of your team.

  • Assign the intern to projects that have a beginning and an end (so other interns won’t have to take over and not know what to do)
  • On the first day, step back and give them the big picture of what your organization is about, who the people around you are, and what how they fit in
  • Interns don’t need to have a comprehensive knowledge of the company in order to finish their project – focus on the need to know so as not to overwhelm
  • Create a folder called the “intern folder” and give them background information 2-3 weeks in advance so when they come into the office they are ready to hit the ground running
  • Have a guide made by interns for interns, and require when each person leaves a position, they create an exit memo detailing their day-to-day job, what has been left unfinished, and what can be improved
  • Do not hire multiple part time interns in place of a full time intern (discontinuation of projects and having multiple people work on it may be more disruptive than just letting a single full time employee work on it)
  • If the intern takes up too much of your time because you have to hold the intern’s hand to finish projects, you might as well fire him/her – your time is more valuable than the intern’s!

photo credit: Adam Lerner via photopin cc