How to Recruit & Evaluate Rockstar Marketing Interns

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Kendal Peiguss
Kendal Peiguss



Interns are good for more than just coffee runs. They can offer a fresh new perspective -- not to mention an extra pair of hands -- on marketing projects that are increasingly catering to a younger demographic's natural talents. Think about it: marketers are being asked to adopt new technologies at a rapid rate, experiment with mobile apps, be active users on current and emerging social platforms, blog like they've never blogged before. You know who does those things a lot? College students looking for internships.

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But the internship experience should be a learning experience for both parties, something many companies fail to deliver. A successful internship program sees the intern coming away with real-world experience, and your company reaping the benefits of a completed project, new insights, and feedback on how to run an even better internship program for your next round of recruits.

Or hey, maybe you even decide to hire your intern! According to a 2012 NACE survey, an all-time-high of 58% of interns are hired full-time after the internship has ended. That means employers are taking the time to find the best possible recruits and integrate that young talent into the company culture. The problem is, if you've hired the wrong intern, you're going to suffer lost resources and productivity on training and managing a new employee who will only leave you in 6-12 months. So to ensure you don't suffer such a fate with your own marketing internship program, we've put together this guide to help you hire your next intern. Take a look at the evaluation process you should go through to recruit the best and brightest for your company!

First, Should You Hire a Marketing Intern?

Taking on an intern can be an asset, but it’s also a big responsibility. Not every business is ready to implement an internship program -- and yes, it should be a full-fledged program as opposed to a one-off hire to fill a quick need. Rebecca Corliss has been the point-person at HubSpot to harness the power of the intern since she started our internship program that now extends across all departments in our company. “I wanted all marketing interns to have consistent training and mentoring during their time at HubSpot. Interns are an investment in the long-term growth of your team,” she says. But it’s not for every company, either. There are some factors that a company must possess in order to run a successful program.

You should hire an intern if you:

1) Want a fresh perspective on your marketing strategy, the marketplace, and your industry

2) Have time to dedicate to training and nurturing the intern

3) Can offer monetary compensation, college credit, or both

You should not hire an intern if you:

1) Only need extra help with administrative filing and paperwork

2) Don’t have a set agenda or goals for the internship program

3) Haven’t discussed and gotten buy-in for the internship program with your whole team

Where to Find Interns

If you’ve decided an intern would be a good fit for your company, you need to find someone who thinks you’re a good fit for them. Oddly, this is an area many of the businesses who have expressed interest in intern programs express the most confusion. Where on earth do you find interns? In their natural environment -- colleges, universities, and the internet! If you're ready to start your internship program, here are the places you should start your recruiting efforts:

  • College and university job boards - Most schools in your area will have online job boards set up. Sometimes the listings for internships are integrated with the employment listings, and sometimes schools maintain a separate job board just for intern listings. Either way, get your listing onto these boards stat! Some schools will require you to pay a small fee to list your position, while others will list it for free. As you establish a good relationship with the school, though, you'll likely develop a point of contact who takes care of listing your positions for free (because you provide such awesome experience for their students).
  • College and university job fairs - Your future intern should be a go-getter, and go-getters visit job fairs to network. Set up some space at a job fair to have the benefit of screening candidates face to face, and performing a little mini-interview before inviting them to your office.
  • External job and intern sites - Students are using sites like,, and to find internships in their area. Your company should be visible on at least one of these sites, if not all. Make sure you indicate clearly whether your internship is paid, for credit, or both, and provide a clear description of the duties the intern will be responsible for -- and remember, it shouldn't be fetching coffee!

Keep in mind that though timelines vary by school, most student interns expect to work part-time for a semester or two. If your internship takes place during the summer and you are paying, however, it's more likely you will be able to get a full-time intern. If you are not paying for the summer internship, though, some students will need to spend hours at a paying job.

What to Look for in a Marketing Intern

Like any legitimate internship program, HubSpot interns undergo an in-depth interview process from online applications to in-person interviews. While the internship requirements for different businesses will vary, there are a few traits that every marketing intern should possess in order to succeed and make a positive impact on your inbound marketing strategy. If you're reviewing intern resumes or interviewing candidates, keep these 6 traits in mind, and reference these questions you should ask and red flags to look out for so you end up with the best intern for your marketing department.

1) Advanced Writing Skills

If you’re an inbound marketer, writing is no doubt a crucial part of your success. If a new marketer is joining your team, he or she better be able to contribute written content. So when interviewing for any marketing openings, ask for plenty of writing samples -- press releases, blog posts, newsletter articles, anything! Ideally, your intern would maintain his or her own blog, even if it isn't about your industry or marketing in general. Consistent writing habits make for strong writers who will likely produce valuable content for your company.

Questions to Ask:

1) Please send me 3-5 writing samples before our interview.

2) Do you maintain your own blog, or regularly contribute to others?

3) Point me to some examples of great writing online, and explain why they are great.

Red Flags:

1) Submitting outdated writing samples - Anything older than two years is an indication they haven't published anything they're proud of recently, thus they aren't an avid content creator.

2) Rampant grammatical and syntactical errors in the writing samples - While students may not have an editor over their shoulder and the occasional mistake will slip through, writing samples they submit should be almost clean as a whistle.

3) Inability to pin point the qualities of great writing - It's easy to find great writing, but it's not as easy to explain why it's great. Those who can, though, are able to replicate those qualities in their own content.

2) Strong Social Media Presence

Social media is as much a professional platform as it is a friendly one. If your intern prospect has pictures of themselves doing less-than-admirable activities on Facebook or hasn't built up a LinkedIn profile, that's a red flag. As an intern myself, I can assure you that 18-23-year olds have been warned over and over again that employers will Google them and peek at their social media presence before an interview. Assume that your intern prospects have been sufficiently warned, and that any questionable findings is a deliberate choice to ignore those warnings.

Questions to Ask:

1) Have you ever managed a company Facebook page or Twitter account?

2) What type of things would you tweet about for our company, and why?

3) Why do you think businesses should maintain an active social media presence?

Red Flags:

1) A look of panic when you mention the prospective intern’s Facebook page, or excessive profanity and inappropriate images online - Remember, they've been warned!

2) Freezing up when asked to generate social media status update ideas for your business - This is an indication that they either don't understand your company (or haven't done the research to do so), or they don't see the immediate application of social media to your business. Either way, it's short-sighted and is not a good quality for a marketing intern.

3) A non-existent or outdated LinkedIn page - If a marketing intern fails to see the value of LinkedIn as a professional social network for their own purposes, you shouldn't expect them to see the potential in social networks for your own business.

3) Confident and Professional Presence

In-person interviews are crucial to evaluate how an intern will operate under pressure. But even if the interview is relaxed and friendly, you can bet the interviewee is nervous -- and that’s okay! But they should be able to operate successfully even when under pressure or a tad uncomfortable. So look for eye contact, professional attire, and clear communication skills.

As the interviewer, you set the tone of the interview. Decide on whether your interviewing style is more casual or more intense, and stick with that theme through all of your interviews. Every prospective intern should be subjected to a comparable amount of pressure and intensity. An intern’s actions under the pressure of an interview can be indicative of their behavior in high-pressure situations at work.

Questions to Ask:

1) Why are you the best person for me to hire for this internship?

2) What are you especially good at?

3) Describe a time you've really screwed up, and what you did to fix it.

Red Flags:

1) Little to no eye contact or intimidated body language - This may be a result of initial discomfort, but these behaviors should fade after the first few minutes of conversation.

2) “I’m a student! I’m not really good at anything yet.” - While this may seem like a humble response, it is also the response of someone who is likely timid. You need an intern who is ready and raring to go, and not afraid to fail!

3) Spinning the question to be a typical interview answer - You know what I mean, "My weakness is actually my strength!" Again, your prospective intern shouldn't be afraid of (or immune to) failure, but should be able to bounce back from it.

4) High Expectations

Finding someone that is excited to work can be difficult, but those people do exist, especially among a younger demographic that's hungry to prove their worth. Look for an intern that is excited about starting work in a real-world setting, wants to gain professional experience, and maybe already has some ideas of a project he or she could start right away. Obviously, you as the employer want to set high expectations for the program, but the best situation is one in which the intern has set the bar even higher.

Questions to Ask:

1) What do you hope to get from this internship?

2) Where do you see yourself in five years?

3) Why do you want to work at (insert your company name here)?

Red Flags:

1) No areas the intern hopes to improve upon - If your interviewee doesn't have goals for this internship top of mind, he or she hasn't put much thought into the opportunity. This might just be a resume builder.

2) Lack of focused goals - If your prospective intern has no idea what he or she wants to do in the future, or alternately, his or her goals are all over the board, you might have a flake on your hands that isn't ready to dedicate time and thought to your company.

3) Knowing nothing about the company - If you're met with a generic answer like "I think it's a great opportunity to learn a lot and help you guys improve, too," your prospect either doesn't care about the internship, or hasn't researched your company. What you should hear is something like "I love your focus on helping local businesses, but I think there's opportunity to expand your reach. I would love to bring my expertise in international business to the internship to help get that started, maybe with social media!"

5) General Knowledge of Inbound Marketing

While the intern may not have years of experience, it’s important that they have some context in order to communicate clearly about marketing with the rest of your team. Interns will have a lot to learn, especially in the first few weeks, but they should not weigh down the progress of the department. Quite the opposite, in fact. After getting their footing, your interns should have enough knowledge to take the position to new levels and generate their own ideas and contributions.

Questions to Ask:

1) What marketing classes have you taken?

2) What would you say is the difference between a lead and a prospect?

3) What marketing publications do you read?

Red Flags:

1) No marketing background or interest - This means they don't take marketing classes in school, haven't worked at another job or internship doing marketing, or don't read marketing industry publications.

2) No understanding of typical marketing terms or ideas - Be aware that terms can differ by region and discipline, but with very minimal coaching your prospect should be able to gain a clear understanding of what terms mean -- if they don't know already.

3) Unable to identify several marketing publications they read - If your candidate flounders at this question and then spits our one or two extremely popular trade magazines as a last ditch effort, they aren't truly invested in learning about marketing.

6) Leadership Experience

While your intern won’t likely be managing anyone on the marketing team (though they might have to deal with vendors and contractors), it’s important that they demonstrate experience in teamwork and time management. A prospective intern with leadership experience, whether they hold a position on the student council, are captain of a sports team, or founded a nonprofit organization, is likely to be self-motivated and hard working.

One of the most important internship traits for Rebecca at HubSpot is the ability for an intern to think on their feet. “It’s important to give an intern some room to mess up and learn for themselves," she says, "because that will be a bigger learning moment, and you might learn something new from the way they handled the situation.” While the first few weeks are a learning process, it’s important to find a young person with ambition and self-direction so you’re not holding their hand throughout the semester.

Questions to Ask:

1) How do you manage working on a team?

2) When was a time that you had to step up and manage a group of people to get a job done?

Red Flags:

1) Appears to play a backseat role in past group projects - Interns are at the bottom rung, which unfortunately means they sometimes have to be scrappy to get the information and resources they need. Someone who takes a backseat role isn't going to have the drive to get those resources to be successful.

2) Has no extracurricular experience outside of the classroom - Everyone's been placed in a group in class, but your intern should be involved in clubs, other internships, and jobs. It's in these experiences that "real life" skills develop that will make for a great addition to your marketing team.

It’s important that your intern leaves with a positive experience from their internship with you, because their recommendation will impact the success of your internship program in the future and, ultimately, your hiring process. Whether the goal is to train new talent for your company, have an impact on the success of a young professional, or increase productivity, be sure to take time and care when hiring your next marketing intern!

What qualities do you value in a marketing intern? Share your hiring experiences and recommendations in the comments!

Image credit: Vivianna_love



Topics: Recruiting Tips

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