Interns are a great resource to utilize in order to guarantee that you always get your coffee right at 9 a.m., so make sure you hire wisely!

Just kidding. When chosen and onboarded properly, interns can serve as an extremely valuable resource to your company. Plus, sometimes the best people to hire as full-time employees are people who have already worked for you, and therefore understand your company’s work and culture. This means it’s even more important to hire the best possible interns for your agency – they might just be your employees someday.

No, an internship shouldn’t be about fetching coffee and filing paperwork, so make sure you recruit talented, intelligent and confident students in order to drive the future of your company.

At The DSM Group, we use a sort of farm system (think minor league/major league baseball). We only hire from within our program so we put a lot of effort into finding amazing interns who we can train and coach into amazing employees.

We look for four things that we feel can’t be taught in school. This is important to know from the outset, since as we meet potential applicants, go through the interview process and decide whether we want to make them offer, we always keep these four things in mind:

  1. Are they a good person? (This is something that can’t be taught.)
  2. Are they super smart? (Do they have the ability and desire to learn new things like strategy and software?)
  3. Do they have a high motor? (We’re all about that old school work ethic that would make our grandmas look lazy.)
  4. Are they a great writer? (We can’t teach someone how to be a great writer. This is why we’re big on journalism majors, or any applicant that has a lot of experience writing.)

But wait…there’s more! We give applicants proverbial bonus points if they have one or more of the following things:

  1. They’re very good at something. (Whether it’s ballet, piano, sports, whatever…it shows they have discipline and put in the time to be GREAT.)
  2. Captain of something. (Whether it’s the football team, the chess club or the dance squad, it shows leadership and the ability to make decisions.)
  3. They volunteer for something. (This goes back to the “good person” idea.)
  4. They’ve started something from scratch. (It goes without saying but starting your own club, website, business, whatever shows HUSTLE…which we love!)

Now that we’ve set the framework, we’ll show you the process we go through to find people that fit the bill of what we want in an intern.

Search the right sources

Great interns aren’t just going to jump out at you from nowhere – it’s a two-way street. Not only does your company need to spend time looking for promising candidates, but you also need to market yourself to students so they’re aware of who you are and how to apply.

But before doing anything, our agency takes the time to consider exactly what type of person we want working for us, and we develop our ideal candidate’s persona. For example, do you want people who are strong writers? How about assertive workers? Maybe they should just be genuinely good people. (Or perhaps you want all three.) The traits you pinpoint should be used as the basis for how you seek out interns and how you evaluate them at each stage in the application process.

There are a number of sources our company searches through in order to reach potential applicants, each of which would work for other companies as well. Each has their own perks, so they should be used in conjunction with one another.

Job search websites and social networking

First and foremost, we make sure our company’s profile on sites like Glassdoor are updated and represent our company well, because applicants do check these reviews. Reading current and positive reviews about a company’s internship program will certainly encourage people to pursue the position, broadening your agency’s selection of potential interns.

And don’t underestimate the power of websites like internships.com andinternmatch.com, which allow people to search for a certain position in their vicinity, so posting about your internship openings on sites like these ensure that people nearby will learn about your program. Plus, the beauty of these sites is they provide one simple location for applicants to learn about your company, get information on the position and apply for the program.

Another online resource we consider is school career boards. Many colleges have job banks where they list potential jobs and internships within the area, so make sure you consider colleges that are nearby and request to have your position listed. These sites often list positions both throughout the school year and for the summer term, so you don’t have to worry about losing applicants during off seasons. Plus, hiring even just one intern from a college and providing them with a valuable experience probably means they’ll tell their friends, making your chances of finding other applicants from the same school more promising. Thus, you’ll want to make your application as accessible as possible.

Finally, we all know the importance of LinkedIn. Through this site, you can not only seek out qualified applicants within the area, but also look into people who have applied for the position to view their skills and experience. Make sure you keep your company’s LinkedIn page up-to-date with relevant company information and work taken directly from past interns, in order to showcase what kind of work interns have completed within your program.

Career fairs

Many colleges also hold career fairs or roundtables, and invite local employers to come and recruit new employees or interns. Get in touch with local universities to find out when these are being held and reserve a spot for your company.

Our agency attends numerous local career fairs, and a lot of our talent has been recruited through these events. Because we know we’ll be directly presenting our agency to applicants and interacting with students face-to-face, career fairs require a lot of preparation. We make sure that the representatives we’re sending to speak with students are friendly and ready to talk about our agency and intern program. Additionally, we often find it’s beneficial to send one male and one female representative in order to create a more approachable atmosphere. Remember – these students will likely be speaking with a number of employers, and you want to be able to stand out in their minds above the others.

What we discuss with potential interns is just as important as how we present our organization. We make sure to be honest and upfront about certain expectations within the position, what types of work interns do and whether the position is paid or for college credit. Plus, we make sure to give clear guidelines on how to apply for the position – you don’t want to lose your ideal intern because you didn’t explain what the next step in the application process is. Our marketing agency doesn’t accept copies of resumes or cover letters at career fairs, but we give everyone we speak with a business card guiding them to our web page application.

Lastly, we pay attention to how students hold themselves as we speak with them. Do they look confident and excited to speak with us, or do they seem self-conscious and bored? Not that this is the end all, be all, but we do keep in mind that one day, these people may just have to approach our clients.

Visiting college classes

Our agency has been able to establish close relationships with professors from local colleges over the years, so another way we seek out interns is by visiting college marketing classes and speaking to the students about our agency and internship program. This method gives a more personalized feel, because it shows you’re taking the time out of your workday to talk specifically to a small group, and your efforts are likely to be appreciated. It also allows them to get a glimpse into what we’re like as people and whether they would fit in with the atmosphere we have. Through these classes directly, we’re able to encourage more people to apply who we know hold relevant experience for the position. And hey, we’ve gotten some of our current interns through this tactic!

Finding the best of the best

Once we’ve spoken with people about our company’s internship program, we make sure that our application is easy-to-find and straightforward, so people aren’t deterred from applying. Our application process may seem intricate and drawn out, but it’s how we ensure that we hire people who have true potential within the agency.

Online application

Our agency has every applicant fill out the same form on our website, with categories including name, email, phone number, resume, Twitter username and the open-ended question, “Tell us something your resume doesn’t.” This last question is where we separate the good applicants from the great ones.

We only hire people as interns who we can envision working here someday, so we don’t want people who provide a generic response when applying – we look for answers that are unique, creative and show the applicant’s potential within our agency.

After applying, all applicants receive an email from our agency thanking them for their submission and explaining that it may take a few weeks to get back to them. After reviewing the applications, we either ask them to come into our office for an interview or let them know that we’d like to move in another direction.

First interview

By this point, we can only assume that your inboxes are flooded with internship applications. Don’t get overwhelmed – this means you now have a greater chance of finding those ideal interns. But with so many applicants, it’s important to employ a rigorous interview process in order to make sure you’re finding the exact right fit for your company. Follow our agency’s interview process in order to ensure you’re hiring great interns!

Our marketing agency invites back the strongest applicants for an interview, and we ask a variety of questions in order to assess all possible facets of the applicant. This first interview is more of a conversation where we get to know more about the applicant, who they are and what they’re into. It’s all about seeing whether they’d fit in with our office culture. Listed here is just a taste of what we might ask (and of course, we have lots of internship interview questions prepared just for the occasion):

Values and Preparation

  • How did you prepare for this interview?
  • Tell us what you know about The DSM Group.
  • What is your understanding of the internship program at The DSM Group?
  • Give us some highlights from your experience.
  • Tell us about the last time you did something nice for someone.

Content and Social Media Presence

  • What blogs do you follow?
  • Do you manage your own blog or guest blog anywhere?
  • Have you ever managed a company Facebook page or Twitter account?
  • What type of things would you tweet about for our company, and why?
  • Why do you think businesses should maintain an active social media presence?

Confidence and Professionalism

  • Why are you the best person for this internship?
  • What are you especially good at?
  • Describe a time when you’ve really screwed up, and what you did to fix it.
  • If I was to talk to a few of your professors and/or previous bosses, what would they want you to work on?
  • Tell me about the last time you had to learn a new technology. How did it go?

Internship Expectations

  • Tell us about the other internships you’ve had. What did you like and dislike about them?
  • If you were the CEO of those agencies, what three things would you change right away?
  • What do you hope to get from this internship?
  • What would be your biggest challenge as an intern here?
  • Where would you excel the most?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?

Knowledge in the Field

  • What marketing classes have you taken?
  • What is the difference between advertising, marketing and PR?
  • What do you know about inbound marketing?

Leadership Experience

  • How do you manage working on a team?
  • When was a time that you’ve had to step up and manage a group of people to get a job done?

Wrap Up

  • What questions do you have for us?

After the first interview, we ask them to send us writing samples.

Writing samples

The reason why our agency asks applicants to send us writing samples is to gauge their writing skill and style, and to prove they’d be an asset to the company. Plus, requiring a sample ensures that they’ve done some strong writing in the past, and that they have experience in the area. Nothing screams red flag like an applicant who has no notable writing experience.

Samples can come from a wide variety of backgrounds and include many tasks. We’ve have students send in writing assignments they’ve done for classes, or work they’ve done outside of school, like blog posts they’ve written for another publication. Another alternative is having applicants respond to a specific prompt, such as, “In 500 words, describe why inbound marketing is the future of marketing.”

After we receive and review writing samples from applicants, the candidate is either turned away, or is asked into the office once more for a second interview with our Marketing Director.

Second interview

If we invite an applicant back for a second interview, it means they truly had an outstanding first interview and notable writing samples. The second interview is dedicated to seeing how serious they are about the position, and determining if they have the potential to succeed here. Again, we only bring on interns who have a realistic shot of working here and we only really hire from our internship program. Just like the first interview, this is kept casual and while some of the questions may be more difficult, we prefer that it’s more of a conversation.

After having a second interview with our agency, there are two possible steps. The applicant is given a decision on whether they were denied or offered the position – finally! It’s okay to take a bit of time to consider your decision, especially when comparing an interviewee to the rest of your potential new interns. Just make sure you give applicants some kind of idea on when they’ll hear back from you.

Offering an internship

If an applicant is offered a position with our agency, they receive an email/phone call including:

  • Their offer
  • A request to let us know if they accept the position, and to confirm their availability, start date, end date, if they’d like to complete the internship for college credit and if they have a laptop and headphones they can bring daily

If the applicant accepts, they receive an email welcoming them aboard! And now you can breathe a sigh of relief too, because you’ve found your newest team members-in-training!

Onboarding your new interns

Informational email

A week or so before their internship is set to begin, new hires receive an email with information about what to expect on their first day. For our agency, this includes where to park, what time to arrive, what to bring, information on lunch breaks, what to wear and a reminder that we have coffee, water and snacks in the office.

The first day

When our interns arrive on their first day, they are given a tour of the office, introduced to all the employees, shown how to use the office coffee machine…all the important stuff. They also complete introductory work in order to prepare themselves for their term in our office. This includes filling out emergency contact information and setting up account information for any sites they’ll be using throughout the term. They are also asked to download any tools they’ll need to their computer, including practical extensions like LastPass and our intern chat program,Slack.

We like to maintain an extensive intern onboarding process in order to ensure that interns feel welcome within the office. Happy interns equals better work output, which means your company will benefit in the long run (potentially by hiring them as your future employees).

Training program

Prior to working on our site and our clients’ sites, all interns are given extensive training in various areas of inbound marketing and SEO, in order to ensure that they have a strong foundation in the field. By spending this extra time to assist interns in learning the ways of the industry, they’ll gain a much stronger understanding of what they’ll be doing, thus allowing them to accomplish real work and leave the internship with a vast amount of knowledge in the field.

Our interns are given a training spreadsheet that lists videos to watch and articles to read on various topics. Plus, all of our interns complete the Inbound Marketing certification on HubSpot, which entails them watching videos on the topic, testing themselves on what they learned and ultimately passing the final test. This not only provides them with the knowledge necessary to proceed in the internship program, but also gives them a competitive edge for when they enter the workforce.

Doing real work

We don’t have our interns file paperwork or fetch coffee, because what value will that ever serve them? (Besides, we have our own coffee machine right in the office.) Instead, we have them actually complete real work for our website, our brand and our clients, which not only gives them a highly valuable learning experience, but also provides our agency with some extra hands when we need to get work done. Once interns have completed their training period, which usually lasts about two weeks, we move them into other areas of work that are representative of what full-time employees complete on a day-to-day basis. They are taught how to use WordPress by building their own web pages and landing pages; they write, edit and publish blog posts; they create social media calendars and email marketing campaigns; and they sit in on as many internal meetings and status calls with clients that they can handle.

Additionally, they learn and practice other skills, such as the stages of keyword research, from choosing and searching for keywords to understanding what makes a keyword valuable, and ultimately integrating that into a blog post or page. Interns are initially taught these skills in a group setting, and are then given individual feedback as they hone their abilities. Further into their term, they’re assigned to one of our client services team where they help with day-to-day tasks and get exposure on what it’s like to be an agency account manager.

And throughout this whole process, don’t forget to make sure that your interns are part of your office’s culture! It’s important that you don’t disregard this – when interns are treated like employees, they’ll enjoy their time in the office so much more than if they were treated like just a “typical intern.” In our agency, we make sure that our interns always feel like part of the family, and that they’re included in agency activities. For example, our company has monthly potluck lunches, and we always ask interns to also bring in a dish, and include them in the festivities!

Moving forward

In such a fun environment, it can sometimes be easy for interns to forget that they’re completing this work in preparation for future employment (potentially with that exact company). In order to help them keep in mind that they may have a future with the agency, our interns have individual progress meetings about halfway through the term in order to assess their experience in the internship up until that point. Interns are told what they’re doing well and what they can improve upon, as well as asked to share what they do and don’t like about the internship. By encouraging an open flow of communication, our interns are able to get the best experience possible, and managers are able to tailor the program based on feedback in order to make improvements.

After their initial term, we may invite some interns back for consecutive semesters if we feel they are a great fit with us.

It’s important to not only ensure that you hire the right people for your company, but that you then give those interns a valuable experience once they begin the position. These interns may just work for you full-time someday, and by setting a strong foundation from the beginning, your interns will be able to achieve so much more in a more efficient and enjoyable manner. Plus, interns can offer your company some truly valuable work – so make sure you hire the best.

Do you have any other tips for hiring great interns? Let us know in the comments!