8 Warning Signs When Interviewing Interns – Intern Program Tips

Sure, you’re “only hiring an intern.” But if you’re utilizing your internship program properly, you should see it as a pipeline for potential permanent employees. Because even if you are not short staffed right now, savvy recruiters know a resignation could be right around the corner. Having a handful of prescreened internal candidates means you don’t need to scramble for a last-minute replacement later.

Furthermore, it is often when an organization is not actively looking, that they stumble across a real gem. In some cases, a position can be created to make sure you keep that person who is a perfect fit for your company… and fills a niche you didn’t even know existed.

Because of this, it’s important to treat intern recruiting with the same respect you would full-time hiring.

Yes, you are dealing with a different degree of experience; and you certainly needn’t know that an intern could become part of your team. But it’s counterproductive to take on an intern you’re certain you wouldn’t want on a long-term basis.

Although employers’ primary concern should be assessing the positive elements an intern can bring to the company, there are certain signs—red flags if you will—that should not be ignored. Pushing these out of your mind, or rationalizing with “we’re only hiring an intern” puts you at risk for problems later on.

Signs to Watch for When Interviewing Interns

1. Arriving late or ill-prepared. Yes, flat tires happen. But hitting traffic or getting lost are not legitimate excuses for being late. The truth is that if an interview is important enough to an intern, they’ll leave extra early—with their route mapped out—and all the materials they need to make a positive impression. If not, chances are they’re either chronically late… or they just don’t care that much about getting the job.

2. Lack of detailed description. When asked about education or previous positions on their resume, an intern should be able to describe—in detail—their daily activities. The fact is, if you really worked somewhere or completed certain courses, you are able to say more than “carried out marketing functions” when questioned.

3. Absence of enthusiasm. In the intern arena, especially, one of the most essential aspects is enthusiasm. Because it’s important that any employee have a passion for your business; but for interns, it’s even more crucial, since they are there to learn.

In an interview, passion presents itself as enthusiasm. So if an intern seems too nonchalant, they’re probably applying just to receive a paycheck or to pad their resume. Generally speaking, the best interns are those who truly want to be there.

4. Intense interest in salary. Speaking of paychecks, another red flag is the intern who inquires immediately about pay. While compensation is certainly a criterion, it shouldn’t be the most important issue on their agenda. Immediately mentioning money is often a sign they’re picking a position primarily by pay…as opposed to genuine interest in your organization.

5. Self-centeredness. The astute candidate understands that an internship is a two-way street: The intern carries out tasks for the company, and the company provides teaching and training. An intern who comes in too focused on their own list of criteria often doesn’t end up being a team player. Interns who mesh the most seamlessly usually have an attitude of confidence, but also of gratefulness for being given the opportunity.

6. Put-downs of past positions or employers. Everyone has had a bad boss or professor. But most professionals realize an interview is not the place for boss bashing. When a potential intern describes previous falling outs or confrontations, it says more about their ability to relate to people than their previous employer’s bad personality. An intern who’s had problems in the past, will probably have problems with your staff as well.

7. Unpleasant personality. Personality matters as much as—if not more than—experience when selecting interns. And in the case of interviews, a candidate’s personality doesn’t have to be overtly awful to become a problem. Since they are, assumingly, on their best behavior, even small signs should be examined closely.

Characteristics like acting annoyed if kept waiting, seeming standoffish or aloof, or being pushy about learning the outcome of the interview are real red flags for future behavior. When interviewing interns, it’s crucial you keep two issues in mind: How easy it seems they’d be to work with (and take direction) and the culture of your organization—and how well they would fit within it.

8. Hesitation. Once again, the interviewee who really wants a job will appear enthusiastic. On the other hand, the intern who is looking to do as little as possible—or who is interviewing with your company in case the program they really want doesn’t pan out—will often seem reluctant or indecisive. In other words, you won’t feel certain they really want to work there.

Regardless of someone’s qualifications, you should take this into consideration. Gamble on this intern, and there’s a good chance they won’t be happy…and you’ll be back in hiring mode.

Employer takeaway: With the exception of nervousness, keep in mind that interviews usually show an intern’s best side. So if you notice red flags, it’s important to pay attention. But most of all, follow your instincts: If you sense someone is not a fit, you’re probably right. Admit it to yourself and move on to a better match.