This spring I decided to hire two interns for the summer. With Holiday Gift Guide clients and the expansion of our social media program offerings, I knew we needed the help. I hadn’t hired an intern in 10 years, but I had fond memories of working with them. In years past, I had found interns through colleges, but I learned that websites were the way to find interns today.
In April, I posted an internship opportunity on Internships.com and got some applicants. I also posted on Indeed.com. Over about a month’s time, I received over 50 resumes and cover letters, many from students at top colleges and universities. One resume and cover letter stood out from those of all the other Communications and Writing Majors. What was so outstanding about Erin’s application? It contained no spelling or grammatical errors.
I really wanted to hire two interns, so I was torn. I reached out to P.R. buddies and colleagues asking for advice. Was it okay to hire an intern who sent in an application with mistakes? Responses including everything from, “They’re just college kids — give ’em a chance” to “Absolutely not. An application should be free of mistakes.”
Some of you may know that my Mom was an editor and is still the best writer I know. In hindsight, I’m glad she was such a fierce (yes, that’s the right word) editor. I’m pretty sure I’ve inherited a bit of that intensity. Some of my pet peeves are misspellings and grammatical issues. I’ve been known to send comments to website owners and others I’ve never met alerting them to mistakes.
I should also make clear that I wasn’t looking for an intern to make coffee or run errands. For the $10 per hour I was paying her, I expected top-quality work. In return, I would give her the benefit of my many years of experience to help make her work better. Plus, a portfolio of excellent content and a stellar recommendation can go a long way towards a great first communications job out of college.
Finally, consider this. Holding college students to a lower standard isn’t going to help them in the real world. Mistakes on cover letters and resumes may not turn off every potential employer, but it will definitely lead some to pass them over. Errors show not only a lack of professionalism, but a lack of attention to detail. In the business of communicating with others, those issues are deal breakers.
Ultimately I just couldn’t see myself hiring anyone who submitted information with errors. I hired Erin, who will be a senior at Rollins College this fall.
Wondering how she’s doing?
The answer: great.
With all of the writing, social media and graphics she has worked on, I’ve never seen a spelling error. I have been working with her on improving her writing in terms of grammar and style, but much of that is just practice.
I do have a few tips on how to make internships great for everyone, but I’ll save that for another post.
In the meantime, this experience reminded me of two important beliefs:
- Make sure every written communication is mistake-free.
- Never lower your standards.
Do these principles resonate with you? Please share your stories.