Building a Startup Internship Program: How to Interview & Extend Offers to Interns

August 8, 2014

Interviewing prospective interns is much different than interviewing experienced candidates. What skills should you be looking for, and what questions should you be asking to identify them?


As mentioned in my last post, interviewing intern candidates and pushing them through a formal process is an integral part to building a successful internship program.
That being said, interns have less work experience to draw upon and would most likely fail if you interview the same way you interview a full time hire. Of course, if they need specific knowledge for the role you should absolutely dig into it — for example, testing an engineering intern candidate on their coding skills — but you should not expect the code to be perfect and at the same level as someone with 5+ years experience.

Skills to Look for in Potential Intern Candidates

Prior to beginning the interview process, you and your team should set the bar to which these interns will be held. From there you can determine if they pass muster or not.
If it is soft skills you are looking for (i.e., hard working and independent) you should dig into:
Leadership experience: Were they the captain of a sports team or president of a club in high school or college? Did they take on a leadership role for a class project or train new employees at their part time job at home? Even if intern candidates have no real work experience, they have life experience. Draw from that experience and dig into the leadership roles they took on.
Time management: Everyone (especially college students) has a certain level of time management. Ask questions that dig into their time management skills. How do they study for mid terms or finals? How to they go about completing a major project while still keeping up with other schoolwork? How to they juggle a part-time job, sports, clubs, etc. with school?
Independence: Something every intern mentor wants is an intern that can figure things out on their own. No one is interested in being interrupted every few minutes to answer questions that shouldn’t even be asked. Be sure to ask questions that dig into their independent thinking skills. Was there a time that they were stuck in a project, not knowing how to do what was needed to move forward? How did they get through that impediment?

Free List of Sample Intern Interview Questions

What questions do you need to ask to identify these qualities? Find a list of sample questions here.

Asking the right questions and digging into the right soft skills will help ensure you land with an intern that will be eager to learn and add value to the work your team is going.

Tips for Extending Offers to Interns

Once you have found the right candidate, extending the offer is not the time to slack.
Most internship candidates are aggressively looking for cool companies and interesting positions over the summer; and there are a lot of options out there for top students. That being said, making an offer to an intern candidate has many parallels to making an offer to a full time hire: You need to do it right and there are no guarantees it will be accepted.

Determining Pay

Streamline pay as much as possible. For example, have all incoming interns start at the same rate. While there may be exceptions for specialized skill sets (engineering), this will ensure all teams are on the same page and can accurately allocate their budgets. This also cuts out any negotiations and uncertainties. Average intern pay varies by geography, industry and job function. Intern pay typically ranges from $10-$20 for non-engineer and up to $35+/hr for engineering interns. Glassdoor is a good resource for finding average rates in your area.
Here are some tips on successfully extending an offer:

  • Extend the offer as soon as possible after the final interview (1-2 days max).
  • Extend the offer verbally. Either email to set up a time to chat or call and ask if it is a good time. Never just email the offer.
  • Try to get a verbal acceptance over the phone.
  • Confirm hourly rate, start date and schedule.
  • Follow up with a formal offer letter and a deadline for the signed copy to be returned.

What should be included in the offer:

  • Intern’s title
  • Hourly rate
  • Start date
  • Anticipated end date
  • Terms (at-will employment, etc.)
  • Contact information for questions (internship program owner and/or hiring manager)
  • Addendum with responsibilities (including but not limited to)

Sample Intern Offer Letter

Please find a sample offer letter here.

Bottom Line

At the end of the day it is important to treat intern hires as you would full time hires. Be respectful of their time and take the offer stage seriously. Doing so will enhance your chances of landing top students that are highly sought after.
Read the other posts in the “How to Build a Startup Internship” series

Photo by: Heinrich-Boll-Stiftung

Senior Talent Manager, Engineering

<strong>Meghan Maher</strong> is Senior Talent Manager, Engineering, actively recruiting top talent for OpenView and its Portfolio Companies. Her tech background has helped OpenView hire for nearly 20 IT and engineering positions. Meghan began her career at AVID Technical Resources, where she was a Technical Recruiter for two years.