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Hiring Interns: Perspective From The Employer Side

Catalina Rojas

August 3, 2017

This blog is part of PCDNetwork’s career in change 2017 series. Click here for information on all the activities, webinars, blogs and ways to participate.

By Dr. Catalina Rojas, Director of Innovation, PCDNetwork

Welcome to August in the PCDN Career Series We chose August to be the month of internships because at least in Washington D.C. this is when you see most students, young professionals and career changers all sweating with their ties and suits in freezing cold offices.  It's not beach time.  While much of the world is in vacation mode, an army of young individuals are hard at work for a shot at improving their resume.

We don’t need to write the blog of why to intern or why not to intern. You already know that if you intern you will get NO pay, you most likely won’t be asked to stay as a paid employee and you will burn your fingers carrying coffee.

But as someone that has hired dozens of interns I want to share my experience from: “the other side”. That is, the hiring side. I have had many interns in my professional life; over the last decade I have hired many young talent. Overall, I have had an AMAZING experience. These are the principles I lived by and this is why I think to me hiring interns was an effective and necessary way to get my work done.

1)Took my job of hiring seriously

The whole shebang. Exactly like a paying job. We advertised, we received resumes, we shortlisted and did in-person interviews. The first time I had to do this all by myself, but every semester one of the tasks of the departing intern was to lead the hiring process, do all the work and together we did the final selection. I also had the new intern be briefed by the departing intern. In addition, I had the intern write an on-boarding manual that would get regularly updated. The interns were getting hiring experience, which is great to have especially earlier in your career.

    2) I delegated. For Real.

I am absolutely convinced this is the best approach. If I hired you, short of paying you a salary, you were a very important part of my team. As a department director in a very small NGO I could afford that. Almost without exception my interns gave me their best work because they felt appreciated and in return I received great quality work. Win-win all around. If you only give your intern coffee-making responsibilities you miss getting a lot done and you will get very little in return.

Almost without exception my interns gave me their best work because they felt appreciated and in return I received great quality work.


3) I had clear expectations (goals and benchmarks of success)

I sat with them at the beginning of their term and asked them what was expectations and the goals. I almost always hired incredible interns, but the few occasions I didn’t, I was able to quickly identify the shortfalls and in one case I had to let someone go.


4) I adjusted when things didn’t work as planned

Yes. Sometimes people’s expectations don’t fit. I had an awkward experience but it was short-lived. I realized this hire was not a good fit and it was mutual. In about a week the intern was gone and we replaced them with the right fit. It’s ok. It’s called life.


5) I gave my interns real job responsibilities (I know I am repeating but this point is key)

I have been a teacher for many years. I saw my interns as students, a one-on-one experience to teach someone in a professional setting. I treated my interns as colleagues and I can’t tell you that when you give someone, anyone the respect they deserve you get wonderful things back.


6) We keep in touch over the years

The experience was so overwhelmingly positive that with a few of my interns we keep in touch and watching them get high level security jobs; witnessing them have babies; get PhDs, it’s such a joy to know that I was there in their beginning of their careers and to see how high they can fly. Hey, they might give you a job later on. It’s an absolute pleasure to receive calls as they are hired to very exciting positions over the years.


This blogpost is not an exercise if saying how wonderful I am, I am sure you can contact my interns and they can fill you in with feedback about me. The point here is that you are aware that you can also CHOOSE who to work with and also when looking for an internship you can make sure you are hired in a fair manner; get real responsibilities and be part of a team. Please don’t arrive on Monday asking to be CEO of a company. Be a team player and learn as much as possible from your boss, see her/him as a teacher because you are probably going to learn more in that cubicle than in a classroom setting.


Tell us your experience as intern or hiring interns, did you have a good boss? What else you think is missing from this blogpost?

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