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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

How I Found the Perfect Intern (and She Found the Perfect Internship)

Companies (especially startups!) feel like they’ve struck gold when they find the perfect intern. And on the flip side, a dream internship can make students feel like they’ve won the lottery. When it comes down to it, there are perfect interns and there are perfect internships. But how do the two find each other?

Here’s how I did it—and how you can, too.

The Company

From the Perspective of Jody Porowski, Founder and CEO of Avelist

My company, Avelist, is an online platform where people can go to get advice from others. We’ve raised some funding, but we’re operating on a very frugal budget, so (like most startups) we are in love with the idea of having star interns join our team.

This summer, we began a massive marketing push, so I knew I needed a fantastic marketing intern. In the spring, I started looking for someone who exhibited the following three characteristics:

1. Someone Who Wants to Learn

I knew that the tasks our intern would be doing would be beyond entry level, which meant we needed an intern who was excited to learn on the job. Learning on the job is harder than it sounds. Not everyone can do it. It requires putting in extra time, being willing to ask questions, and being confident enough to make mistakes and learn from them.

2. Someone Who Cares About the Company Mission

Startups require the heart and souls of both the founders and the early employees. It requires belief in the mission of the company to work the long hours, to come up with creative strategies, and to overcome the many obstacles that you’re bound to face. Since our interns are key members of the team, they need to believe in the mission, too. They need to be excited about our ideas. They need to be passionate about our success. They need to want to work for us more than any other company.

3. Someone Who Takes Initiative

Of course, I expect an intern to fulfill the “basic” responsibilities—showing up on time, promptly responding to emails, finishing projects and hitting deadlines without my reminding. But my perfect intern is someone who goes above and beyond the basic requirements. I am so impressed by a strong work ethic. And an intern who is full of ideas and excited to make things happen is the best. Our culture at Avelist is hard-working and creative. We take our work seriously, but we laugh a lot too. We expect each other to go above and beyond since we know that’s what it takes to succeed. I was looking for an intern who’s a good culture fit.

In the spring of 2014 I met with a student from Duke University named Wilhelmina Ryan. It didn’t take long into our first meeting before I realized that she was the intern I’d been looking for—and I offered her a job on the spot. Read on to learn why she said yes.

The Intern

From the Perspective of Wilhelmina Ryan, Avelist Marketing Intern

I’m currently a student at Duke, a rising senior studying economics and markets and management. When I started the search for my ideal summer internship, I had three criteria in mind. First, I had to be surrounded by people from whom I could learn. Second, I had to be working on a great idea. And finally, I had to be in a position where I could add value. On all other points I was flexible, but on these three I wouldn’t budge.

1. Great People to Work With and Learn From

This was likely the most influential determinate in my decision to join Avelist. After my first meeting with Jody, I came away knowing that I could learn a tremendous amount from her. But my feelings of excitement were not enough for me to base a decision. I met with the Avelist team several times before making my final decision. I can say with certainty that I pegged the people of Avelist correctly as extraordinary. Avelist’s strong and positive team is one of its most valuable assets.

2. An Idea That I Believe In

Avelist’s mission of connecting individuals in life transition to useful advice from peers was something I was able to comprehend and stand behind. I knew that the product would change and evolve, but I had confidence in the overarching vision of building a platform where people could exchange useful information with their peers. Jody’s unsinkable commitment to her vision furthered my confidence in the Avelist idea.

3. A Valuable Role on the Team

I realized that Avelist was at a critical point where it needed manpower to achieve its marketing efforts for the summer. A strong summer of marketing would help the company raise its next round of investment. I knew that through working for Avelist that I would have a direct impact on the company, and this to me was empowering. Having my work mean something was more important to me than the title or status of working for a more established company.

In fact, working for a company that is fighting to prove itself has taught me more about business than if I were to have accepted a job at a more established, “safe” company. I have learned through working for Jody how to navigate and thrive in a fast-paced work environment. I love the fluidity of my position. Working for a startup means doing what ever the company needs most at that time. The work I do is very different one week from the next depending on what is most pressing for the company at that time. I love this!

How We Knew We’d Found a Match

When I (Jody) met Wilhelmina for the first time at a little coffee shop called Saladelia Cafe, I was instantly impressed. She engaged me with interesting and creative marketing ideas. She emphasized her willingness to work hard—door-to-door marketing if that’s what it took! And she shared stories of the work she’d done in past internships that showed me she was the type of person who took initiative and followed through. She was confident. She asked for feedback. She expressed strong belief in the Avelist mission. Seriously. What choice did I have? I offered her an internship on the spot!

But on top of being extremely impressed with her as a person and confident that she would help Avelist progress toward our goals, I realized that the internship she was looking for was exactly the kind of internship Avelist could provide. This is, after all, the definition of the perfect internship: The intern should be exposed to amazing opportunities of learning and growth, and the company should gain a dedicated resource who contributes incredible value to the business. In other words, the perfect internship is mutually beneficial to both the company and the intern.

If you’re a student looking for the perfect internship or if you’re a company looking for the perfect intern, know that a good match is out there, and don’t settle! When you talk to each other, share what you hope to gain and what you hope to give. Find your perfect match. It’s out there, and it’s worth it!

Photo of intern courtesy of Shutterstock.