SmartRecruiters Blog

How to Master Interviewing Interns cc: Columbo

So your company is building out an internship program and you have been tasked with the process of interviewing candidates and hiring the best ones.  Looking at the resumes, the students come from a range of schools, with a range of GPAs, and a range of experience.   So how can you gleam enough information in a 45 minute phone call, to decide which students have makings of a future hire and which are going to give you managerial migraines as they get up to speed on the basics?

We recommend channeling your inner Columbo, start by building rapport, than gradually unravel the onion to see if the student, has the right skills, cultural fit, and professionalism to work at your company.


Step 1: Deliver a great interview and sell the role.

Just because you are interviewing a student doesn’t mean they don’t have options.  Hiring great interns is as competitive as hiring top-notch employees and you will want to use all the same tactics to present your company and the opportunity in the best light.

The basics of this mean show up on time, be prepared having reviewed the students’ resume, and bring energy and excitement to the meeting.

We also recommend starting every interview by getting to know the candidate, where they are from, where they went to school, and building rapport.  We then recommend asking them for permission for you to do a 5-minute overview on the company and the role.  This is an ideal opportunity to educate them on your company and team, and to sell them on why it is such an exceptional place to work.


Step 2:  Use your detective’s skills to test for passion and cultural fit.

Recent grads
, and especially current students, don’t typically have deep professional experience, so their ability to tell a story of why they’d be a good fit for your company is essential.  Some questions that can do just that include:

    • What are you studying and why?
    • How did you learn about our internship and why did you want to apply? (My personal favorite!)


  • Why are you a particularly good fit for our company?

All of these questions test whether a student researched your position and is truly excited for the role.  Genuine excitement makes a huge difference at the intern level, because often these students need to be taught skills from the ground up.

Step 3: Put on the heat.

We like to progress from easier to harder questions with students.  Students can be nervous will interviewing, so helping them get comfortable, helps you make sure you are testing for the right skills.  However, in the second half of the interview we recommend pushing digging in a bit deeper on their skills and skill limits:

    • Can you tell me a bit more about your experience at Widget Corp?


    • How did you increase signups for the email newsletter by 20%?


    • What tools did you use?  Which worked and which didn’t?


  • How have you advanced your marketing knowledge outside of class?

We also like hypotheticals, for example if you are interviewing a PR intern you might ask:

  • If we wanted to get press in the biggest dog blogs in the world, and had access to over 100,000 dog owners to run a survey, what questions would you ask, and how would you go about reaching out to the bloggers to get them to write the article ultimately?


Step 4:  “Just one more thing.”

Columbo is famous for using the last part of an interview when everyone is most comfortable, to draw critical conclusions.

Every internship interview you have should end with you asking students if they have any more questions about the role, company, yourself, process, or company culture.  Oftentimes student have questions about the structure, hours, or responsibilities of an internship position and letting them ask questions helps make sure you have addressed any lingering concerns they might have.  Even more important though, students should use this opportunity to take the info you have given them and ask a relevant and more in-depth question showing their ability to comprehend and communicate – testing for this is hugely important.

While every company needs to develop their own interview process and strategy this model can make a big difference when trying to get a feel for students who oftentimes are quite inexperienced.  Ultimately, you should let the student do the talking, and ask deeper and deeper questions on the areas that are most important for success at your company, just like Columbo would do.

Nathan Parcells is co-founder and Director of Marketing at InternMatch. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009, Nathan joined long-time friend and co-founder, Andrew Maguire in starting InternMatch to build a better way for students to find great internships. Photo Credit DVDBeaver

Nathan Parcells

Nathan Parcells is co-founder and Director of Marketing at InternMatch. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009, Nathan joined long-time friend and co-founder, Andrew Maguire in starting InternMatch to build a better way for students to find great internships.