The last post focused on finding the best intern candidates for your PR firm or department. Now lets discuss the selection process. If you’ve done a good job promoting your internship, you should have plenty of applicants.
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Email/resume/samples. For most internship candidates, the email and its contents create the first impression. And it’s usually an accurate one. You don’t need my help evaluating these packages, but let me recommend you focus on these questions:
Did the subject line break through? Did the message offer a clear and concise introduction of the candidate’s qualifications? Was it accompanied by the the writing samples you requested — or links to them? You did request writing samples, right?
One caution: Don’t expect students to be too creative or flashy. They’ve likely been advised to make a simple, crisp presentation — and with good reason. If you find a few smart candidates who also write well, test their creativity later.
The interview. Vet your candidates carefully and narrow the field to 3 or 4 who will earn face-to-face interviews. Talk to references in advance, not after the interview. It will save you time by further culling the herd. Also, be sure to examine each candidate’s online presence in advance. Review LinkedIn profiles, blogs, and public social network activity.
Aside: One of Kent State’s most loyal internship employers tells me internship interviews have become anticlimactic in this 2.0 world. “We know an awful lot about the kids before we meet them, just from checking their online activity,” he said.
Be sure candidates should interview with the staffers they’ll work with most. Chemistry is critical. But most important, leave at least 2 hours for an intense writing test.
What’s in the test? That will vary according to your needs, but I recommend a two-part test:
- News release or publication story. Not everyone you interview will be schooled in writing news releases. But all should be capable of writing a straightforward story that’s publication ready. Supply a list of facts along with quotes and background. Ask for a 250-300 word story that presents the message as you’d like it to appear in the targeted publication or website.
Include a clear strategy with audience and objectives spelled out. Allow the candidate access to one of your staff in case questions arise. In fact, if you want to be really sneaky, leave out one or two critical info nuggets to see if the candidate is savvy enough to raise the questions. Critical thinkers won’t be fooled.
- Problem scenario. Develop a 1-page scenario that presents a problem or opportunity your client is facing. Ask the candidate to write a memo that presents recommendations to the client for both action and communication, along with a rationale for each one.
This two-part assignment allows candidates to demonstrate clear thinking and clear writing. Oh, yeah. Be sure tell ’em that grammar, spelling and punctuation count.
Warning: Bad writers are everywhere, and a lot of them want to work in PR. Don’t ask me why.
Part III: You get what you pay for: Why unpaid internships are for losers.