PR Interns Part I: Finding the right candidate

About now, PR firms and departments are reviewing resumes and interviewing internship candidates for summer positions. If you plan to hire interns this year and you haven’t begun the process, get a move on. The best of the crop are interviewing now.

How do you find the best intern candidates? As one who’s been guiding internship placement for nearly 20 years, let me offer a few tips:

  • Maintain contacts with faculty and advisers at the schools that produce the best candidates. Ping them 2-3 times a year (email or Twitter is fine).  Remind them you’re always scouting great talent. Court the best schools with a phone call once a year. That personal connection gets faculty and student leaders thinking and talking about you.
  • Prepare job descriptions that include a bulleted list of internship duties. This will take you 10 minutes. Include information about compensation. Send the job descriptions to faculty influencers at your targeted schools. Be sure the job description includes specific instructions on how to apply and the deadlines for those applications to arrive.
  • Post the job description and instructions to your website. Provide a tab or link from your home page or your jobs page. Make it easy to find.
  • Post an interview schedule and stick to it. I know that’s a tough one, because internship oversight is seldom a priority. But remember that your internship is one of many available out there. I can tell you from experience, the best candidates receive multiple offers. Make yours one of them.

Be clear about follow-up procedures. If you don’t want phone calls, say so. But give students a means to follow up with you directly. Email is fine. You’ll learn a lot about a candidate by how he/she manages this connection.

What should candidates submit? Most employers ask for a resume, cover letter and 2-3 writing samples, submitted as email attachments. For you 2.0 types, I know that sounds soooo 1999. But it works, and everyone knows how to do it.

If you want something else, then say so. Were I the internship czar for a PR firm or department, I’d require students to submit a 250-300-word email pitching their candidacy to our selection committee. That email would include links to an online portfolio and LinkedIn profile. Other links (Twitter, blog, Flickr, etc.) can be added to the signature line of the email.

Sure, not everyone hoping to work in PR is a geek, but anyone can set up a LinkedIn profile, and anyone can post work samples using a WordPress blog or an online portfolio site such as VisualCV or Carbonmade. If they can’t, do you really want them on your team?

Follow-up with every applicant. While you’re at it, include a paragraph explaining your interview and selection schedule. If you get hundreds of applicants, don’t feel guilty about using an auto-reply. But acknowledge the applicants and respond to their questions.

It’s easy to sit back and wait for the resumes to pour in, especially if you’re a hot shop or large department. But as an intern employer, don’t forget the “sell job” goes both ways. Candidates must sell you on their credentials and abilities, but you must sell them on your company.

Let me say this again: The best interns will have multiple offers. And the best interns, like the rest of us, appreciate clear, timely communication.

Coming soon:

Part II: Putting Your Candidates to the Test

Part III: When It Comes to Interns, You Get What You Pay For

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4 Responses to PR Interns Part I: Finding the right candidate

  1. Good tips, Bill. I’ve just signed on an intern for an association for which I’m on the board, and you’re right – you have to sell the intern on the company/association as much as they have to sell you on their capabilities.

  2. April says:

    I think it is important for employers to realize that for many candidates this will be their first time looking for a job outside of the mall. The education doesn’t start when the internship starts. It starts during the application/interview process.

  3. Timely response is critical. I’m talking to the hirers and not the hirees. The “best” interns DO get multiple offers, and if you or HR drag your feet you absolutely risk losing your first choice candidate. It also helps to have more than one person in the vetting process, so if you are the intern czar, keep another czar close by.

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