How To Hire An Intern: 5 Interview Questions You Must Ask

Hiring an intern can seem tricky. On one hand, it’s an opportunity for you to thoroughly get to know, test and mould a potential future employee at little (or no) cost to your startup.  On the other hand, interns typically don’t have extensive work experience, which makes many startup entrepreneurs wonder whether the intern will require large amounts of supervision and training. How do you go about selecting the right person for you and your company?

The good news is that you can enjoy a positive and mutually beneficial internship experience by asking the right questions during the selection process to ensures that your intern is a good fit for your business.   Here are some questions I suggest you ask to find out what your candidates are made of and find the right people for your business.

1. “Tell me about something you’re most proud of accomplishing.”

If you were hiring a full-time employee you’d want to know what projects they’ve been responsible for in the in previous roles.   A young intern, obviously, will not have an extensive work history, however it doesn’t mean that you can’t look for evidence of an ability to pursue goals, lead others, implement ideas and complete projects.

Keep in mind that the best indicator of a person’s priorities is not what they say they like doing but that they actually spend time doing – so inquire about real actions which have led to results in their life.   For example – have they been part of a university or school organisation? Have they set up a YouTube channel dedicated to a cause they care about? Do they have an interesting blog? Have they coached other students?

 2. “What does success look like to you?

Could you describe a day in your life when you’ve reached success?”  What we do is not nearly as important as why we do it.  Broadly, people are either driven by a desire to contribute something to others or to be validated themselves.  And you need to make sure that the motivations which drive your intern are a match for the culture in your startup.  If your startup is on a mission to revolutionise, for example, the education system – and your staff are so passionate about that cause that they’d work on the goal even if money wasn’t coming in – then an intern who is driven by a desire to get rich by revolutionising the education system (notice the difference) will be a poor fit for your business.

The best way to get a snapshot of someone’s motivations is to ask them to speculate on what their future perfect day would look like. In other words, once they become successful, what will their life look like?   Some people will begin to describe the difference they’ve made in the world and how much they’ve grown through the problems they’ve faced. Others will talk about the prestige, status and financial rewards of having “made it”.   Pay attention to those answers and make sure they’re aligned with your own version of success.

3. “What do you believe we stand for and why is this important to you?”  

Your startup is based on a big idea. It probably begins with words like “We believe that…”.  You, as the founder, are quite familiar with that sentence because it crystallises your vision and is (hopefully) an organic extension of who you are.

I, for example, believe that all people deserve to love their jobs. And that’s what my business stands for. My fiancee runs a family photography business because he believes that stories of families need to be told differently.  You can expect most internship candidates to find the first part of that question easy (because they’ll find the answer on your website), but wouldn’t be blown away if one of them was able to articulate the second part in a way which demonstrated that they have the same beliefs about the issue as you do?

4. “Tell me about a time you went an extra mile to achieve a goal or to get a result. What did you do?”

This is essentially an invitation do demonstrate willingness to go beyond what’s required. You want people on your team who don’t need to be pushed, coerced or bribed into producing results.   You need to know that, when you’re not there, they’ll default to finding other problems they can solve for you – because solving problems is something they enjoy doing.  Look for evidence of creative problem solving, thinking outside the box and perseverance.

5. “We’ve all experienced times when we have found errors in our work. Can you give me an example of such time. How did you handle it?”  

When people make a mistake, they do one of 3 things:  – collapse  – hide evidence of mistake, or – own up to the mistake, fix the damage and learn from the experience  You want people of the latter type. And, by the way, you want to create and maintain the kind of business culture where the third option is seen as the only option – otherwise you’ll either end up surrounded with drama and meaningless apologies or stamped out innovation.

By Irene Kotov  

Irene Kotov helps entrepreneurially-minded people get jobs in exciting start-ups. She helps job-seekers shape their social media presence, prepares them for the interview process and arms them with a kick-ass resume, cover letter and Linked-In profile to help them confidently stand head and shoulders above their competition.


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Natasha Hodgson is the Content and Community Manager over at Enternships. She loves writing about inspiring things, and Nicolas Cage. Luckily, those two things are not mutually exclusive.

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