By T.K. Brady
Whether you’re interviewing by phone or in-person, and whether you’re sifting through hundreds or dozens of resumes, finding the right whippersnapper for that coveted internship can be a challenge. Plus, this may be the first time you’ve hired anyone! Six seasoned junior editors are sharing their secrets for finding an all-star intern.
Shrink your pool
No one has time to meet with 30 applicants—or send 29 rejection emails! “Do not set up interviews with more candidates than you have the time or ability to follow up with,” says Melissa Bykofsky, associate articles editor at Parents. Most publications meet with three to 10 people for a given semester depending on the number of positions available.
Read, read, read
How do you identify these shining stars? Many interviewers believe the cover letter is the most important part of any application, since it will give you an idea of a student’s writing style and creativity. “There is nothing that will rule out a candidate faster than a generic cover letter that has been submitted time and again for different jobs,” says Julia Black, assistant to the editor-in-chief at Esquire. But if, like Black, you receive hundreds of letters and resumes each semester, don’t stress too much about poring over every detail of each one. “Personally, I’m usually not reading past the first paragraph,” says Julie Cerick, assistant managing editor at Thrillist.
That said, hiring an art or photo intern requires some experience or interest in photography or design—not necessarily an expert wordsmith. “I like to focus on a quick overview of their experience in their résumé rather than a cover letter,” says Julie Borowsky, assistant photo editor at Billboard.
Ask the right questions
Once you’ve narrowed down your interviews to the lucky few, it’s crunch time. You don’t necessarily need to ask lots of questions—it’s more important to ask the right ones. A couple of tough questions thrown into the mix will also indicate how the candidate will react in stressful situations on the job, says Cerick. Try out the following q’s:
-“Why do you want to work for this publication?” An applicant’s answer will tell you if she’s serious about this particular internship. If she’s eager to learn and can cite a specific section of the magazine she loves, she’s more likely to be a right fit for the role. “Make sure you’re hiring people who really want to be there,” says Black.
-“What’s a recent story from our publication that stood out to you?” You’ll know she’s done her homework and picked up an issue or perused the website before walking in the door if she can give you specific facts from a piece.
-“Tell me about your most impactful work experience. How did it influence you professionally?” This is a positive (and less intimidating) way to ask an applicant about her previous experience. Even if she doesn’t have prior internships, she should have an example to cite here. “This gives me an idea of what’s important to her professionally and how she wants to grow,” says Julia Fawal, editorial assistant at Woman’s Day.
-“What do you hope to get out of this internship?” This question helps you manage both parties’ expectations. “It’s important to know what I want out of an intern, but it’s equally important to know what she wants out of an internship, too,” says Fawal.
-“Where do you see yourself in five years?” “I like to know an applicant’s career goals,” says Borowsky. If she plans on sticking around the industry and taking on an editorial assistant or assistant editor role, she’s viewing this internship as a stepping stone to future success. “When you’re ambitious, you have a pep in your step, and you work faster and harder,” says Erin Riley, associate editor, Gotham and Hamptons magazines.
Beware of bad attitude
A positive outlook and go-getter personality are key qualities when it comes to choosing a star candidate. “If she seems bored in the interview—which I’ve actually witnessed—it suggests that she’ll be bored with the job—and that doesn’t benefit anyone,” says Fatwal.
Just because you’re the one asking the questions, doesn’t mean you don’t have to do some of your own prep work. Make sure you know exactly what the internship’s responsibilities are, how much the job pays, and an anticipated start date. “I still write down all the information I need to share with the candidate to make sure I don’t forget any details,” says Fawal.
Let them down easy
Obviously, you can only choose a certain amount of interns per semester, which means you’ll need to let the other candidates know they didn’t get the job—especially since they could be waiting on other offers. Standard protocol is that you should get back to anyone you talked to in person or on the phone, but you don’t need to send a rejection letter to every single applicant. (Although that would be nice.) “It can be hard to have to turn down so many amazing candidates, but just know that they’ll land on their feet! I’ve rejected people from the Esquire internship only to see them turn up as editorial assistants at other magazines in the building a couple of months later,” says Black.