An Intern’s nightmare…or a dream come true

Two weeks ago, we hired our first interns after 28 years in the biz — to be precise, our first three interns. From a field of 50 applicants, staff shortlisted to nine candidates. But instead of interviewing each candidate one-at-a-time, they changed it up and asked the candidates to take part in a hybrid version of The Apprentice meets Survivor. The Survivor part was mostly going without food for the better part of the day, because although we catered a great lunch, the majority of candidates were too nervous or wired to eat much.

The Apprentice shout out saw the candidates work in teams of three, with each team given the same assignment. Come up with a strategy and implementation plan to get attention for a fictitional client with an equally fictitional product. None of the candidates knew one another. The teams started at 11 in the morning and had until 3 that same afternoon to craft their response and practice their presentation. Six women and three men in total, two women and one man on each team. Our staff played the George and Ivanka roles, watching how the teams worked and who was responsible for what.

The final presentations took place in front of a panel of senior staff, with others from the office invited to observe, ask questions and provide input into the final decisions.

To be honest, I thought we were asking too much of the interns. After all, while a paid three-month position, it wasn’t paying much. And no one else in the office had to do anything like this to land their jobs.

I’d like to say, I was wrong. The experience was genuinely amazing — for everyone involved. We really had a chance to get to know the interns and see them work. Their strategies were innovative and in most cases, would have been effective. The teams incorporated social networking, mainstream media, partnerships. The strategies were thorough. Based on online research, market segmentation. A lot accomplished in a short amount of time. And the feedback from the participants was genuinely great.

When the day was over, the candidates exchanged email addresses and the majority attended our client Christmas party — even those that weren’t selected.

The only thing negative I could say about the process is that it took hours to determine who to hire, because all of the candidates were so good. Anyone who’s been in PR for any length of time knows they owe at least one moment in their career to someone who helped them out, gave them their first break, served as a mentor or took a risk and asked them to do something they hadn’t done before.

So part of you wants to hire all nine and give them their break, but the Donald Trump comes out and reminds you that you’re running a business and nine new people introduced into a shop of 36 is about six too many. So you make the tough decisions, hope they’re the right decisions, and keep in touch with the rest.

January will see the three new interns join our crew, and based on this experience, we’ll be doing it again. And if by chance you’re looking for an intern, we have six more to recommend.

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2 Responses to An Intern’s nightmare…or a dream come true

  1. @tbains says:

    I’ve had to complete tests during the application process but nothing so creative as what you’ve described. Clearly, the experience was mutually beneficial because you dedicated time and effort to make it a worthwhile experience even for those who ultimately would have to be cut. There’s just no shortcut to building a relationship–with our customers, clients or interns.

    Do you think you’ll expand this experiment beyond interns? I don’t have interns but I can see adapting more of this Apprentice/Survivor style process to other hiring decisions…

    • I have our staff to credit for the innovation. We will definitely use this process again for interns and aspects of it will be integrated into the regular hiring process. Although, ultimately, we hope that the interns will become permanent employees as long as we have the volume and they prove to have the chops.

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