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A good interview can be a lot like a good conversation. That’s especially true when you’re hiring an intern. Why? Since you’re not making a permanent hire, you can afford to be more relaxed.

Most college students don’t have on-the-job experiences to discuss. But when interviewing interns, you can always chat about the three things that are common to all students:

  • Where they are now
  • Where they hope to be
  • How the internship can help get them there

More importantly, your interview should help you determine if the intern has the skills, knowledge and temperament required to succeed in your business.

Why did you choose to go to XYZ College?
Tells you: What type of environment the intern you’re interviewing is comfortable in or learns well in, says Lisa Gavigan, director of career services at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. “Someone who’s at a smaller school prefers a relationship-based learning environment, ” she says.

What do you want to do with your degree?
Tells you: How to structure the internship and whether the applicant is a cultural fit for your business. “We like entrepreneurial-minded interns, ” says Everett O’Keefe, CEO of The Solution Machine, a Fresno, California, marketing consulting firm. If the intern’s goal is to succeed in the corporate world and you’re a smaller business, he or she would likely be better off at a larger company.

Is this part of an official college program?
Tells you: If the candidate will have accountability. If a student isn’t working for college credit, he’s a volunteer, not an intern. He may not be as responsible as an intern who knows he’s going to be evaluated at the end of the semester.

What would make this internship successful for you? What are you looking to have learned by the time you’ve completed the internship?
Tells you: What the intern wants to get out of the internship and whether you’re recruiting the right intern. If a student tells you his ideal outcome is a permanent job, but you don’t offer an internship leading to a hire, he needs to know the situation.

Don’t fret if the student’s answer is all about what he wants. “Expect to hear answers that are a bit more self-serving than with a prospective employee, ” Gavigan says.

What single quality attracted you to this organization (or position)?
Tells you: Whether you’re interviewing a student who’s done his homework or one who’s applying in a shot-gun manner. “If it’s a single quality, you can see what the student’s priority is, ” Gavigan says.

What skills do you have that will help you in this internship and where did you get them?
Tells you: If the student can make the connection between learning and doing, then he’s likely capable of seeing how his small project fits within the business. It’s an indication he’s the right intern to hire.

Have you ever been part of a team where someone didn’t pull his weight? How did you deal with that?
Tells you: How he works with peers. The best answer is the one that shows the intern can manage the situation himself and isn’t a tattletale: I talked to the person and when they still didn’t do the work, I picked up the slack and didn’t partner with him again.

Tell me about a time or situation when you’ve had to teach a concept to a peer or another person.
Tells you: If you’d be hiring an intern with customer service skills. The best answers include patience, reading a peer’s level of understanding without judgment and addressing the learner’s needs at that moment.

Are you happier with structure or with a more fluid environment? Do you enjoy doing a lot of different things or one thing really well?
Tells you: Whether the intern will be happy working in a small business environment where employees need to be flexible multi-taskers.

When recruiting interns, look for entrepreneurship majors. “They’ll be happier to join you because they want to see how a small business is run, ” says Debbie Young, director of internships and applied experiences at the Craig School of Business at California State University, Fresno.

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