Resumes of frantic college seniors who have not yet secured a job are likely starting to flood your inbox as graduation rapidly approaches.  These seniors are eager to start their careers and start paying off their 4+ years of debt and will be trying to impress you with the contents of their resume.  However, many college students encounter a lack of applicable job experience to wow you with.  To fill this void in their resume, those who had the foresight to seek out internships throughout their college career will highlight those experiences that apply to the jobs or industries they are applying for.

Unfortunately, while an internship can be a great way for college students to gain meaningful work experience to put on their resume, it can also reflect a summer spent making coffee and copies.  If work experience is necessary for the position that you are hiring for, it is crucial that you find out if their time as an intern is considered valid work experience that will lend itself to success in your company.

When in doubt, follow these steps to help you decipher if a candidate’s internship is credible job experience.


#1:  Reading through resumes, you may find a college candidate that catches your eye despite lacking real world job experience because you believe that their potential offsets that shortcoming.  These candidates are often those who have shown initiative and have one or more internships listed on their resume.  Before you consider them further however, do the legwork and research the company where they completed their internship.  It is important to validate that it was completed through an established and reputable company rather than a company like a friend’s startup that they are only listing as a resume builder without actually gaining industry experience.

#2:  Once you have researched the company that they completed their internship with, evaluate the responsibilities that they have listed on their resume.  The truth is that not all internships are equal in nature so it is important to decipher from their listed responsibilities if they spent their internship job shadowing and filing documents or if they were active participants in a team and had a role in competing projects.  An internship should only be considered legitimate job experience if they were treated as a team member with responsibilities such as leading presentations, conducting research, or other responsibilities replicating those of a full time employee.

#3:  If you have thoroughly analyzed the internships on their resume and are still interested in them working for you, schedule a phone interview to see if moving forward with this candidate is realistic (especially if moving forward is dependent on their job experience).  Even a quick conversation on the phone will give you insight into how much experience they have in your industry.  In addition, you may want to ask why their internship didn’t lead to a full time position after they graduate as many successful internships do.

#4:  Your final opportunity to decide if the candidate’s internship was valid work experience that will make them the right person for the job is during the in person interview.  Sitting across from a candidate and having a conversation with them about their work experience is the best way to determine if they are truly prepared for the position.  Best case scenario is that you meet with a confident college senior who had a successful internship, learned about the industry, and as a result is ready to hit the ground running; however, you may encounter a candidate who embellished their internship and are visibly uncomfortable with the questions that you are asking.


Even without a meaningful internship, you may see enough potential in a college candidate to take a chance and hire them anyways.  However, if previous work experience is necessary, it is important that you resist viewing all internships equally and do your part to decipher the validity of each internship on an applicant’s resume.