How I Made Internship Hiring Decisions

So, it turns out hiring interns can give you heartburn. I had no idea the quality of the applicants would all be so high! I had to make some incredibly hard choices – and, in fact, I’m still not done. That means if you haven’t heard from me yet, you’re still in the running.

Since I’m largely done making decisions, however, I thought it might be helpful to give you a glimpse at what reviewing intern applications was like for me.

Here are some things I noted as I went through applications:

  • The first time I scanned through the names of applicants, I recognized a young woman who had emailed me recently. I decided to read through her application first, and I hired her on the spot. She was the very first graduate intern applicant I reviewed, and I hired her without reading the rest. Why? A number of reasons. First, she had emailed me a link to her blog recently, and I took a quick look and thought it was nicely done. Next, she had a passion for baseball, which showed both through her cover letter and in her job experience. I knew I wanted at least one graduate intern who could start immediately and help me finish up my baseball book, so I emailed her within minutes.
  • Several of the applicants I’ve met in person. One came and found me at MLB Winter Meetings and two spoke to me after I gave presentations to their classes. I found it incredibly difficult to pass on these people, especially when they had an otherwise impressive application.
  • I received recommendations for a few applicants from their professors or other people they know in the industry who know me. I also found it incredibly difficult to pass on these people. In fact, I hired one whose professor I know well and who sang his praises.
  • Cover letters were key! I made uploading a cover letter optional, and I was amazed that many applicants chose not to provide a cover letter. Never miss out on an opportunity to sell yourself! Your resume tells me about your experience, but your cover letter lets your personality come through. Several people whose resumes were average really sold themselves through their cover letter.
  • The majority of those who did write cover letters talked about their “passion” for sports. This is something I did when I was a student applying for sports internships. The one thing every person in a hiring position in sports has told me is that this isn’t enough – virtually everyone applying for a job in sports says they’re passionate about sports. Don’t just tell me you’re passionate about sports – show me. Complete this sentence, “My passion for sports has led me to _________.” For example, if I was writing this last year, I would have said: My passion for sports has  resulted in my getting up two hours earlier every day so I can write a post a day on BusinessofCollegeSports.com. See the difference between that and “I’m the ideal candidate for this position because I’m passionate about sports”?
  • Other people in hiring positions might hate me for telling you this next one, but I can’t resist. If you’re not quite qualified for a position – but you’re close – apply anyway. It’s worth a shot. I had a high school senior apply for my undergraduate internship. As soon as I read in her cover letter she was a high school senior, I almost dismissed her application. However, her cover letter was pretty impressive (Hello! Weren’t we just discussing the value of a cover letter?), including her description of her Excel skills. I was intrigued enough to open her spreadsheet…and, wow! It was one of the best Excel samples I was sent (and she only listed herself as having “Intermediate” skills). I liked her so much, I created a position for her. This happens more often than you think.
  • You gained brownie points if your cover letter (yes, here I go again about the value of a cover letter) made it obvious you follow my work and know what I’m doing. For example, one said, “As you’ve stated you’ve done, I’m willing to start at the bottom, work for free, and work harder than everyone else if given the opportunity.” I say that on here all the time, and in person at my presentations, so I know this person has been following along. Take a look back at Jim Saccomano’s tweets about interviewing interns; he values people who come in and know who he is and what he does.
  • There were a few resumes from women with pink font incorporated. While I don’t have a problem with this (and no brownie points were lost), I’m not sure it’s the most professional look. I’d lose it.
  • I always tell people that employers are looking for a reason to trash your resume. I found this to be true. I had so many applicants – so many FANTASTIC applicants – by the end, I was looking for any reason to say no. Many times it came down to something small, because I was hunting for a reason. There are simple things you can do to avoid this – provide all the optional materials, triple-check your spelling, and be sure you didn’t refer to the person or organization by the wrong name (had this twice).
  • You should always be willing to do anything – but telling me what you really wanted to do or had experience in was helpful. One of the questions I asked on the application was what sport the applicant would most want to research. I only asked, because I thought it would help me when it came time to divvy up assignments. While it did accomplish that, some people took it one step further and told me in their cover letter (yes, again – the value of a cover letter!) about their interest in a specific sport. For a couple of people who discussed baseball, that helped me decide they were the perfect person to work on my baseball book. An applicant stating their interest never caused me to say no (I assumed unless the applicant said otherwise they were willing to research any sport), but it did cause me to say yes a few times.

The bottom line is that decisions are made based on small nuances. Each application standing on its own was pretty impressive. Even for a small internship like mine, the competition is fierce. I can’t imagine what a higher profile organization goes through when they hire interns.

The easiest way to stand out is for the person to know you. That’s why I preach over and over again about networking. I can’t begin to tell you how hard it was to say no to people I met – people I knew were doing all the right things in their pursuit of a career in sports.

I’ll expand on some of the topics in this post more in the coming weeks, but until then read (or reread) the posts filed under the Conference Advice and Twitter Advice categories.

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