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Tips on Hiring and Training Interns

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by Lynn Rosen, IBPA Independent consulting editor

IBPA member Wendy Dingwall of Canterbury House Publishing asked:

“What advice do you have related to hiring and training interns?”

Below are several answers from fellow IBPA members. Do you have an answer? Send it to info@ibpa-online.org and we may add it the mix!

Georgia McBride
Owner, Georgia McBride Media Group, home of Month9Books, Swoon Romance, Tantrum Books, and Tantrum Jr.

A: Here are 10 tips for working with interns based on my experience:
  1. Make sure your goals align with that of the intern’s so there’s no misunderstanding later. For example, an intern interested in marketing will be disappointed if given duties related to editorial.
  2. Don’t be afraid to impart knowledge and to mentor your intern for fear they might leave.
  3. Be sure to set a finite time frame for the internship. Don’t assume your intern wants to work for you indefinitely without pay.
  4. Don’t be afraid to pay your intern. Regardless of whether you pay or not, be sure to follow federal guidelines.
  5. Be sure to get feedback from the intern. Remember, the internship should benefit you both.
  6. Inform the intern up front of the career path that’s possible within your organization. Converting to a paid position can be a great incentive for all involved. If that isn’t possible, be clear about that, too.
  7. Keep track of all intern hours, compensation (even if there isn’t any), and personal information for tax purposes.
  8. Remember, interns are there to learn, not to perform the grunt work no one else wants to do.
  9. When the internship is complete, be sure to write a recommendation for the intern, if warranted.
  10. Be sure to protect your passwords and access to author and staff information. Change passwords often and only give them to temporary staffers, freelancers, or interns when absolutely necessary.

Lorraine Shanley
President, Market Partners International

A: Everyone wants one, but how do you get the most out of them without taking advantage of them—or worse, spending all your time making sure they’re learning? Ideally, an intern is hired for a set number of hours per week, at something close to minimum wage (though some get paid nothing, or earn credits through their schools) and is expected to pitch in on mundane tasks. One publisher advertised for an intern whose responsibilities included “creating press releases, updating social media, evaluating manuscripts, and conducting research across all departments.” Also, “… updating databases, assisting with mailings, and organizing books deliveries.” The latter is closer to the typical intern’s duties. NPR has a recent Tumblr post (nprinterns.tumblr.com) from its interns that makes it seem like the most exciting job in the world.

Michael Mejias
Founding Director, Writers House Intern Program, Writers House

A: Before you start interviewing, know what you are looking for in regards to both personal qualities and skill sets. Take inventory of your staff and office: What personal qualities regularly succeed in your office? Perhaps you work in an intimate space best served by quiet communicators? If that’s the case, you might lean away from over-exuberant candidates. What skill sets are needed every day? Maybe the position is much more administrative. If so, you might prioritize administrative fluency. Once you’ve made these determinations, review all your resumes for the purpose of selecting candidates you’ll afford further consideration.

When you study their resumes, pay special attention to the hobbies and interests section. It can evidence a candidate’s personal qualities. For instance, years ago, a resume came by my desk. Sure, he was an Ivy Leaguer, but what impressed me more was that he was a third degree black belt in karate. This is the thing: You have to be on the wrong end of many whoopings before you become a third degree black belt. So, to me, this was someone who could pick himself up after getting knocked down. That’s a really great quality to have in our business. I hired him. He’s now a junior agent at our agency, and one of his titles just made the bestseller’s list.

When determining skill sets, I have two categories: 1) administrative/organizational/logistical and 2) editorial. By way of estimating A/O/L, you’ll first seek out the skills section on the candidate’s resume. Expect the most qualified candidates to be fluent in (at least) Microsoft Office, Excel, and popular social media platforms. When you study their resumes, pay close attention for any and all evidence of office experience: At least initially, you’ll afford the advantage to a candidate who has spent their summers working at a law office over a candidate who has spent their summers waiting tables, since it’s likely the former regularly practiced the more translatable skill sets.

By way of measuring editorial skill sets, you’ll assign a manuscript to review. If needed, maybe more than one. Have them generate an editorial letter or reader’s report. What I look for in the written part is how well a candidate can explain back what happened, what didn’t happen, and what needs to happen in the manuscript. Does the candidate take a clear position on the manuscript and make a strong case by using examples from the manuscript? Is the candidate an analytical thinker who can write in straight lines? Does the candidate’s work carry a professional tone?

Once you’ve selected the resumes of the candidates you’re interested in, you now have to interview them. I interview approximately 3,000 candidates a year; for me, the best kind of interview is the one that’s a conversation. I like to ask them about their hobbies and skills and why they chose the college they chose. These are all subjects they are experts in; hence, they can speak from an informed and confident place. By the time I’m done with this part of the interview, the candidates are often more relaxed and confident. Additionally, for the purpose of humanizing our interaction, I’ll also share my professional experiences with them. All the while, I make mental notes of several things, including how courteous and responsive to courtesy they are; how professional and how serious they are in purpose; and how they are in demeanor and temperament. How close are they to their resume? Does this person strike you as capable? Do you genuinely like the person, and do you want this person in your professional life? Where do you see the candidate in three years? In five years?

Andrea Chambers
Director, NYU Center for Publishing

A: Employers should be sure to offer a productive learning experience for interns, including providing a designated supervisor to meet with the intern weekly or more. It’s also important to give the intern an overview of the company and its mission; invite the intern to department and company-wide meetings where appropriate; and make sure he or she is given substantive work, such as reader reports, writing press releases, writing for the website, and helping with sales and marketing reports. With appropriate guidance, many interns perform some of the same duties of editorial, marketing, and sales assistants. They are great resources to have!

Kylee Wooten
Publicist, Light Messages Publishing

A:Many people will stress the importance of internships and how critical they are to getting a job after college. In my experience, internships not only allowed me to get a job, but get the right job. My internship with Light Messages Publishing was the most rewarding experience. In January 2015, I joined the small publishing company as an editorial and marketing intern. At the time, most of my experience was tailored toward writing press releases, creating social media content, and creating targeted media lists. Working in a small company gave me the opportunity to work closely with the employees, where I could easily shadow them and learn new skills, as well as receive detailed feedback on my own tasks. I was also given the space and freedom to learn on my own. For the first time, I felt that my ideas were respected and valued, even as an intern.

One of the added benefits of working for a publishing company is that there are an infinite number of marketing opportunities. As an intern, I wanted to soak up and learn everything the company could offer me, but I also wanted to add value to the company. Through my own research, I have been able to add to Light Messages’ knowledge base and expand our marketing reach, creating a mutually beneficial relationship. My classes on public relations and marketing set a foundation for me, and the Light Messages team built upon that every day I walked into the office. A year and a half later, I am now an employee of Light Messages as a publicist. They gave me the skills to become a more valuable employee, and I put in the work to make Light Messages a more valuable company.

Lynn Rosen is co-owner of the indie Open Book Bookstore in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Rosen was previously editorial director of Book Business magazine and director of Graduate Publishing Programs at Rosemont College. She is the author of ELEMENTS OF THE TABLE: A SIMPLE GUIDE FOR HOSTS AND GUESTS and currently serves as editorial consultant for the IBPA INDEPENDENT magazine.

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