Internships – more valuable than GPA

Time to find new interns for the Spring semester!  We started our interview process and have brought a few people in for the final round.  One of the candidates asked us a great question and it took my fellow interviewer and I on a several minute tangent that I thought I would share with you.

But first, I wanted to comment that our candidate pool was actually very small this time.  I’m not certain why there aren’t more people hungry for ad agency internships, and the resumes I have seen are all seniors without any experience yet.  What gives?  Don’t they realize that GPA isn’t the end all?

I came across an article through LinkedIn’s news wrap-up e-newsletter and it was a repost from PRDaily.com that discussed people’s opinions on if GPA was the most important thing you could get out of college.  The answer in the article and comments is a unanimous NO!  I added my two cents with the following comment:

I’ve been in charge of my department’s interns for the past seven years and talk to the Ad/PR clubs at the local university.  The students always ask what I look for in a resume.  I feel like it’s a sliding scale of GPA/classes taken and experience.  If you don’t have a lot of experience/internships yet, you’ve got to show me your high GPA, relevant classwork, and what else you do extracurricularly in order to show me that you know how to juggle your life and get a great GPA.  But the more internships you have under your belt, the less I’m worried about the GPA/classes because I know you’ve got real-world experience and I can ask you about what you’ve learned while on the job.

In summary, if you don’t have a great GPA, it’s best to focus on what you have done and what you have learned.  If you have a great GPA, you then also have to prove to me that you didn’t just take easy classes and not do anything else.

So, back to that question the intern asked.  Since he had not ever had an internship before, he asked what was the one main thing he would need to bring to the table as an intern with us.  I answered with resourcefulness.  My personal rule is to always try to look in three places for an answer to my  question before I start asking other people.  You’re likely to find the answer yourself and be able to teach others, or if you don’t and you ask other people, they probably don’t know it either and help you find it so you both learn or it was a tough enough question that they’re impressed you tried to find an answer before coming to them.

My fellow interviewer answered with passion.  I agree with her on this, too.  We want to see a hunger for learning.  My star interns are always the ones bugging me for things to do, asking to sit in on meetings, taking lots of notes and asking great questions.  They are enthusiastic sponges that will try to make themselves invaluable to you.  I’ve hired a lot of interns in my tenure here as an internship is sometimes a really long job interview.  I’ve also helped find a lot of interns jobs because I am connected with the industry and was able to offer my recommendation because they impressed me so much.

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