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NIH Virtual Hiring Manager Guide Series: Section Two – Hiring Interns

Collage of individuals from left to right: two women talking, man smiling, job search on a laptop, a nurse smiling. Virtual Hiring Manager’s Guide Blog Series – Hiring Interns – Section Two

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is dedicated to playing an active role in sharing knowledge and expertise with the future generation of NIH scientists, managers, and administrators who will strive to improve the nation's health. Internships are a way of providing on-the-job training that allows students to measure their interest in a chosen professional area.

To achieve optimal success, diversity and inclusion recruitment initiatives need buy-in and support from leadership. This blog includes resources that will help hiring managers demonstrate their support for the NIH diversity and inclusion recruitment efforts. In addition, it offers suggestions for hiring highly qualified diverse interns. Our goal is to provide practical Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) information, strategies, and resources to ensure equity in internal and external hiring practices when actively recruiting interns.

A Quick Start Guide to Hiring Interns:

Develop a job description or project for interns in administrative, technical, and scientific positions. The job description will provide the initial expectations about working or training at the NIH.

An effective job description or project should:

  • Explain the organization's goals, mission, and culture.
  • Outline the intern's responsibilities and potential task/project.
  • Describe the necessary qualifications.
  • Clarify the duration of the internship.
  • Illustrate the core skills students can expect to learn during the internship.
  • State the duration and flexibility with schedule.
  • Include the location or office space and whether telecommuting is an option.

For interns in laboratory and scientific positions, please consider covering the following:

  • Name of the potential mentor
  • Project details and expectations
  • Safety considerations and required training
  • Laboratory space, equipment, and support core facilities
  • Skills expected to learn during the internship
  • Duration of the internship
  • Work schedule and flexibility
  • Poster day activities

Determine program needs:

  • The type of student by major, level in school, and skills.
  • What does your office or laboratory hope to achieve from the internship program?
  • When will the interns be needed (date)?
  • In what geographic locations will the interns work?
  • Which universities, professional organizations, after-school programs, or schools do you want to target based on the type of internship program?
  • Will this internship(s) encompass one major project or a variety of small projects?


Internship interviews will help you evaluate if a student is a good fit for your office or laboratory. Keep in mind that many students will be new to the interview process when applying for internships. Consider creating an evaluation form to rate the candidates and make additional comments, as this will help keep the interview process consistent among interviewers.

Sample Interview Questions:

  • Why do you want to participate in an internship?
  • Why are you interested in this specific internship opportunity?
  • Why do you want to intern with our organization?
  • How are you motivated?
  • Give an example of a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty for a project, deadline, or customer service situation. What were the results?
  • Please explain your past experiences and how they have prepared you for this internship?
  • What do you believe your current or most recent supervisor or mentor would say are your strengths and areas for improvement?
  • Give me an example of a time that your leadership skills stood out in a positive way.

Questions that cannot be asked during an interview include (but are not limited to):

  • Are you married, or do you have a permanent partner?
  • Are you pregnant?
  • Do you expect to become pregnant or have a family? How many children will you have?
  • What are your childcare arrangements?
  • How tall are you?
  • Do you have any disabilities?
  • Have you ever been arrested?
  • When did you lose your eyesight/leg/hearing/etc.?
  • What is your native language?
  • What ethnicity are you?
  • How old are you?

The next step to seeking a candidate is maximizing efforts in recruitment to match with those on the market interested in your opening. Read Intern Recruitment for resources, available programs and strategies in outreach.

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