Your friends at Viget present Flourish, a Viget News & Culture Blog

Interviewing (Many) Intern Applicants: A Few Guidelines

We’re at the height of internship recruitment season here at Viget, and that means I spend most of my time reviewing cover letters, resumes, work samples, and online portfolios for around 300 internship hopefuls. If an applicant seems promising, I conduct an initial interview; in the past seven weeks, I’ve conducted forty-five of them.

It would be impossible to handle our volume and maintain my pace without a few guidelines in place:

  1. Brevity. I keep each interview to fifteen minutes. I go longer only for especially strong applicants, either because I want to learn more about them or because I want them to be especially impressed with Viget and our internship program.
  2. Daily Maximum. I avoid booking more than four interviews on any given day, and I leave at least 15 minutes between interviews to document and share feedback with other reviewers. I’ve found that’s my limit before I start losing my mind track of who’s who.
  3. Consistency. You may be wondering: with only fifteen minutes of interaction, how can I possibly form accurate judgements of an applicant? The key here is to make all the conversations mostly the same. It’s the way in which each applicant establishes his or her uniqueness against a consistent backdrop that enables me to draw a judgement—and top applicants distinguish themselves almost immediately.  I use a template for each interview, which lists all the questions and information I want to cover. I follow the same order every time. And—this leads to my third guideline—
  4. Clear scope. I ask applicants only a few, straightforward questions and I aim to form judgements about only a few key things. This works because I know I can rely on other reviewers to draw further, different judgements (usually more focused on the nature of the applicant’s work and skills) later in our process.

Here’s the simple template I use:

Questions To Ask

  • Briefly introduce yourself.
  • What do you expect to do professionally after graduation?
  • How do you understand our internship as helping you achieve that professional goal?
  • Do you have any questions for me about Viget or our internship program?

Topics to Cover

  • stipend
  • location/housing/transport
  • laptop/software needs
  • summer dates/vacation
  • evaluation time frame/other offers

And here are the few things I aim to judge:

  • communication skills
  • basic professionalism
  • genuine commitment to technology and learning (aka a certain geek/nerd factor)

To be clear, I usually wind up forming a wide variety of other judgements along the way, but defining my scope and my responsibilities narrowly allows me to stay focused and on time. One of my top priorities is to give almost no indication to the applicant that I’m working with a template or structure, striving instead to engage the applicant in what feels like a natural and interesting conversation about his or her background, interests, and career goals. Because I have my template at hand, I can feel confident departing from it when that makes sense. Those are usually the stand-out moments that I enjoy the most—and which are highly correlated to speaking with a top applicant.

Copying Text From Images to Your Clipboard

Getting the text out of a raster-based image when you don’t have access to the original source files is something that no one looks forward to. Retyping text is a waste of time, and waiting to get original source files is inefficient. What you really want to do is to take a screenshot of just the text portion of an image, then paste the actual text in your application, like this:

Stepping into Big Shoes

When I accepted my job at Viget, I was instantly excited and ready to dive in; but, I also knew I had big shoes to fill.  Khanh, my mentor/partner in crime and predecessor, was the office manager for four years prior to my arrival. I knew from blog posts like this one that she rocked at her job and was beloved by all. I thought to myself, “How will I ever fill these shoes?” Six months later, I’ve learned to overcome the fear that I’d be walking around the world in a giant pair of clown shoes. If you’re grappling with a similar situation, here are five tips to get you through.

1. You’re Awesome Too.  Remember, you aren’t trying to become this person: you have your own skills, thoughts, and personality traits to bring to the table.

2. Befriend Your Predecessors. Whether they are still with your company or they’ve moved on, I encourage you to reach out and chat with them. In the beginning of my role at Viget, I was lucky enough to spend six weeks under Khanh’s wing learning all the ins and outs of the position. Now, six months later, even though she only works part-time since returning from maternity leave, we talk every day. We bounce ideas off each other and ask for help with projects.  We laugh at silly things that only we could understand about our job and we are truly a team. This has been one of the most helpful and best parts of my job at Viget.

3. Be Game. As hard as it is, try not to be apprehensive. Just be ready to go for it, whatever that means. For me, it meant coordinating a huge office move six weeks into my new job, planning our quarterly office event, and, yes, it even meant being game to clean out our smelly office fridge. If you’re in a project manager or developer role, it might mean staying late to help a client or work through some difficult code. Whatever your role, just be ready to give it your all from the get-go.

4. Ask Questions. No one expects you to be a mind-reader. It’s okay if you aren’t sure, so don’t be afraid to speak up and get the information you need to be the best you can be at your job.

5. Accept Constructive Feedback. Let’s face it: you may not be ready to fully fill those shoes right away. It takes time to grow into a role.  If you’re in a technical job, you might have the coding chops to kill it from the get go. If you’re in a people job like mine, you likely have a one-of-a-kind personality. But, every job has quirks that take time to learn. As you step into those big shoes, I urge you to seek out, accept, and use constructive feedback to make you better.

Do You Have a Weekly Newsletter?

Each week, a dozen Vigets collaborate to generate the Lab Report, a long-held tradition that informs, connects, and motivates our team. It is shared with the entire staff every Friday afternoon and, while it takes a substantial coordinated effort to pull it off, the value is well worth the investment. Here’s why.  

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Viget’s Lab Report has evolved over the years, both in terms of how it’s been generated as well as who has generated it. From 2000 until 2007, it was generated as a Word document and distributed to staff as a .pdf. Here's what it looked like in the early days:

Viget Labs - Third issue of the Lab Report, August 24, 2000

The third issue of the Lab Report, August 24, 2000 (when our team was 6 people)

In the early years, our CEO wrote the entire newsletter each week. To this day, he still contributes each week and does a final review of each issue before “publication.” Since May 2007, we have created the Lab Report each week in a Google Doc Template, which our Office Manager maintains. She shares a clean copy each Thursday with a large number of contributors, including project managers, the business development team, directors, and some folks from the analytics team. All contributions must be added by Friday at 10:00 a.m. EST. Then, the report is edited, reviewed, and finally shared with the entire staff as a comments-only Google Doc in the afternoon.

Today, the content includes:

  • General announcements (office visitors, birthdays, work anniversaries, local events, etc.)
  • Internal project updates (mostly our Pointless Projects)
  • All-company presentations
  • Blog posts of the week
  • Client project updates
  • Business development updates
  • Recruiting updates
  • Funny photos, tweets, quotes.

The Lab Report then serves as the loose agenda for the weekly all-hands staff meeting we call Free Lunch Friday (actually Free Brunch Friday here in the Boulder office). FLF is more like The Daily Show than a normal staff meeting; but, that’s a story for another blog post.

Return on Investment

Most agencies -- at least the ones I’ve worked at -- struggle to make the time to keep the team updated. We put a lot of effort into keeping this tradition alive and continue to see the value it brings to the company. Besides the obvious -- that it strengthens our culture through transparency, information sharing, and cross-office communication -- there are a few other really interesting benefits that we’ve discovered:

  • Providing social reward to team members, such as kudos to staff for stellar project work or highlighting new blog posts, helps motivate people. When you celebrate an activity or achievement, it reveals the company’s values and strengthens that understanding across the team.
  • Sharpening the saw or continuous improvement is an easy idea to talk about adopting, but hard to execute well in practice. We consistently do retrospectives after each project we complete and document the team feedback. This is shared back to our directors and business development team, but then is also shared with everyone via the Lab Report. This allows everyone to take advantage of lessons we uncover through previous projects.  
  • Compelling work is a huge motivator for our team and, while we share sales updates in our weekly all-company meeting, we also document them in the Lab Report. We encourage everyone to read the updates and, if they are excited about or have insight into the opportunity, to let us know. This allows us to better match people’s interests with work and to ultimately create higher-quality, more inspired work for clients. This approach may influence why Viget turnover is low.

What are others doing?

We’re always looking to improve our Lab Report to ensure high readership, and we love hearing about other approaches to keeping a busy, distributed staff in the loop. Group chat tools like Slack, which we use, are great for this -- but there’s just something about a weekly summary to tie it all together.

Do other companies have a Lab Report? I've heard of at least one company where the CEO records a voice message daily that gets emailed to every staff person. While not a weekly newsletter, that could be an effective way to keep everyone up to date. If your company creates a regular digest, I’d love to hear about it.

Two Simple Tips to Win Back Your Inbox and Save Your Sanity

No new mail!

I find that, when I leave my inbox open all day, it owns me. Messages come in. I respond to them. New ones fill in. The cycle never ends. A productivity killer, for sure (unless email happens to be your form of productivity).

In prior efforts to combat this process, I simply closed my mail application and opened it when needed. This is a fairly effective technique. The only problems arose when I wanted to send a message. All it took was opening the application -- and there I was again trying to keep up with the onslaught.