12 Most Common Intern Personalities: Molding Clay into Careerists

12 Most Common Intern Personalities: Molding Clay into Careerists

Please note before you read this – I’m a career mentor and spend a lot of time with college students and enjoy it very much. This post is my dark humor saying hello. Even leaders need to vent from time to time.

It’s always intern season in my world of work. The poorly-formatted, very brief resumes are piled from floor to ceiling and hosts of fun, young college students (actually some are not so young, which can sometimes be alarming) are scuttling through the office, telling stories of strengths and weaknesses, goals and aspirations, credits necessary to graduate, and why the semester they spent sampling every brew in Munich was critical to their being the perfect intern for your business.

Open season.

There’s no time to cringe at the absence of grammar, the confused looks, the frequent interjections of ‘like’ and ‘awesome’ in the conversation. Your  job (and mine) as a leader is to turn these wonderful hunks of clay into a reasonable facsimile of a productive employee, and you’ve got less than six months for the job. You may even find you discover inspiration and teach them many unforgettable career and life lessons.

Here’s a guide to 12 common intern personalities, with some advice on how to hire (or not-wink) and guide their growth.

1. The God/Goddess

Tall, blonde and athletic, pushing 30, on the fifth internship. Studied mostly in Europe on parent’s dime. Supremely self-confident but can’t get the hang of Microsoft Excel. Speaks knowledgeably about British soccer but does not know Terry Francona. Warn others: this person believes themself to be above your petty concerns as a leader. This personality often cannot be cured. Hire him or her and you’ll spend six months trying to get them to do intern-level work, which they may foul up every time. If you make the mistake of hiring this personality/skill set, at least remedy it by firing them quickly. There’s nothing to see here, move along. We need humor in this case sometimes.

2. The Dufus

The complete dufus may seem charmingly innocent and uninformed on the interview, which will trick you into thinking you can mold and inspire them. The dufus also presents as eager to learn and willing to work hard; in truth, however, they may not be motivated to get the job done. They’ll be able to answer the phone but probably not much else. If you need to keep chairs warm and the room full, go ahead… but don’t expect the dufus to produce, you may be disappointed.

3. The Student/Graduate of Your Alma Mater

Someone who graduated from your college may have enormous appeal; after all, they can relate to you. But maybe, you won’t with them… Maybe you went through school before teachers decided to inflate grades, ignore sentence structure and try to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. Unless you graduated from MIT, the standards are different today. Don’t hire on institution – hire on the person’s skills, personality and maturity.

4. The Person Culturally Similar to You

Pick your label: Catholic or Jewish; liberal or conservative; etc. A candidate comes in who immediately identifies him or herself as being in your ethnic or philosophical camp. Great… but not always good enough to for make a good intern. Invite them out to coffee and discuss the merits of the three-party system – but don’t hire them unless their references check out and they’re equals on all other qualifications and requirements.

5. The College Student who Simply Needs the Job

This is a tough one; in this economy everyone needs a job. Some students may need a job more than most – perhaps they’re far from home and the parental safety zone. While you may be sympathetic, beware someone who pulls this out as a trump card at interview. If they need a job, they may not be that selective. It sounds hard-hearted but you need to be the hiring manager; make sure the skills and personality, culture fit are there. Buy them a sandwich, though.. it’s the least you can do as a leader.

6. The Major Changer

A “major changer” is the college student thinking about changing their major and wants to intern – as if to “try it out” – in the new discipline first. It should go without saying, but rather than engaging the major changer, find interns who know your business and who’ve taken courses or have a prior internship that relates to what you do (i.e. if you run an ad agency don’t hire engineering students as interns). There’s some benefit in diversity of skill sets, of course, but you don’t have time to train this person in your field. Be selective (interns should be selective too!)

7. The Person Dressed Inappropriately

It’s hard to avoid cleavage and ripped jeans in certain industries, perhaps… but avoid fashionistas and manikins. Interviewees should have the good judgment to dress appropriately at interview. Ripped jeans may be fine if it’s a workshop or fashion-forward retail workplace culture, but in an office setting, choose the person in the suit or dressed for the workplace culture if more casual.

8. The Overly Nervous in the Interview

This one’s a judgment call – everyone is nervous in an interview – but if the candidate avoids eye contact, scrambles sentences and picks at his or her sleeve, the odds are they’re hiding other insecurities. Unless you have the time and inclination to add therapy to your daily task list, perhaps take a pass.

9. Mr. and/or Mrs. Arrogance

Arrogance is sometimes confused with confidence and character. It’s neither. In my book it can border on a personality disorder, and in a workplace – especially one with a lot of the same type of personalities –  arrogance can be a cancer. Confidence is what you’re looking for in an intern.

10. The Quiet Man

This type of personality – where one is amazingly quiet in the interview – can actually be promising. Perhaps they’re shy, perhaps they’re reading your signals. Or they could be a complete dud. It’s worth a bit of digging, though. Have the whole gang interview them, have your cheeriest employee take him or her out for coffee. There may be gold there.

11. Your Best Friend’s Kid

This always happens. Someone you know knows a kid who’d be perfect for your business. Maybe it’s the kid next door. Maybe it’s someone from your network. If they have the credentials and the right course work, of course, hire them – but be careful to avoid special treatment. No one likes a teacher’s pet.

12. The Re-trained, Perhaps Older, Candidate

The career changer who says they don’t want the salary, just the experience is a challenge; this could go either way. Older people have work experience. They know they have to produce. But if they’ve re-trained there’s a failure somewhere in the background, or just a bad fit, perhaps unrealistic expectations. Probe for reasons, check references, have everyone interview the person and make sure there’s culture fit or you’re in for a world of pain. (We’re not ageist here – actually we’re older than you – just sayin’.)

So tell us a little about your experiences with interns or being an intern. How’s it working out? Always here to hear your thoughts.

It’s okay to vent – I hear you.

Meghan M. Biro


Meghan M. Biro is a globally recognized leader in talent strategy and a pioneer in building the business case for brand humanization. Founder of TalentCulture and a serial entrepreneur, Meghan creates successful ventures by navigating the complexities of career and workplace branding. In her practice as a social recruiter and strategist, Meghan has placed hundreds of individuals with clients ranging from Fortune 500s to the most innovative software start-up companies in the world, including Google, Microsoft and emerging companies in the social technology and media marketplace. Meghan is an accomplished consultant who has helped hundreds of individuals in all levels in the organization (V,C level executives, mid-career, mid-level managers, software architects and recent college graduates) and across generations (Gen Y to baby boomers), develop effective career strategies that propel them to achieve personal and professional success. Meghan is a speaker, practitioner, author, blogger and mentor who is passionate about the subjects of leadership, recruiting, workplace culture, social community, branding, and social media in HR. She is Founder and co-host of two Twitter Chats: "#TChat, The World of Work", a long-standing weekly chat and radio show and #HRTechChat, both communities dedicated to addressing the business needs of the rapidly evolving people-technology landscape. Meghan is an avid social community builder who is inspired by connecting the people and talent dots. Meghan is a regular columnist at Forbes and Glassdoor and her ideas are often quoted, featured on top publications such as CBS Moneywatch, Monster, Dice and various other HR, Social Media and Leadership hubs of your choice.

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