Internship programs are ubiquitous around the beltway (and around the world), but few employers approach these arrangements as ways to attract, develop, and retain top talent. A well-designed internship program will not only help the student or young professional learn valuable skills that will help them in future endeavors, but will create a talent pool of qualified candidates who already have an understanding of your organization and its culture. We asked our experts to come up with some ideas for employers looking to leverage their internship programs – or start one – to attract fresh talent and expand their candidate pools.
Give Interns Real Work – This tip is the most obvious, but definitely worth bringing up. An internship is about much more than fetching coffee or making copies, and giving interns real assignments that will help them build their skills while learning about what type of work is expected of employees is valuable for both parties. If these interns do eventually become full-time employees, either immediately after the internship or further down the line, they will already have real experience completing the sort of tasks they would be expected to accomplish once hired.
Treat Interns like Employees – Interns are often told to treat their internship like a job, but the same concept holds true for employers. Treating your interns like they are already employees means giving them real tasks, as discussed above, but it also means providing regular feedback, including them in office activities like happy hours or outings, and treating them with respect. This will leave the intern with a positive impression of the company – after all, no one wants to be treated like an underling, even if they aren’t being paid! – and will give them a deeper understanding of the corporate culture, both of which will make them more likely to want to stay with the company.
Offer a Flexible Schedule – Students often intern part-time as part of their degree programs, and recent grads often need to pick up a second job while interning in order to earn enough money to support themselves and pay off student loans. If you can advertise that your program is flexible and will let interns leave a little early on certain days to go to class, or split their weekdays between their internship and their part-time job, you will attract a broader pool of candidates. Plus, your interns will value being treated as individuals who have multiple obligations, rather than just a source of cheap labor! Again, this will leave them with a more positive impression of the company and want to stay, or at least recommend the company to their friends.
Give Interns a Project – When setting up or reviewing your internship program, come up with a list of possible long-term projects that interns can work on throughout their time with the company, projects over which they can really take ownership. It will give them a sense of satisfaction at the close of their internship, as they will have taken something from inception to final deliverable, and give them some insight into how their work contributes to the functioning of the company as a whole.
Arrange Regular Feedback Sessions – Employers vary in how often they provide feedback for their employees: some prefer to provide it on an ad hoc basis, whenever a task is completed; some companies have annual or quarterly reviews; and some schedule weekly or monthly check-ins. Interns are with the company for a much shorter period of time, though, so setting up frequent meetings is crucial. Use these sessions to find out what skills each intern is interested in developing, assess how comfortable they are with the tasks they have been given, and provide constructive commentary on the work they have completed. This will make the intern feel more comfortable with the company and with their supervisor, and will give you a chance to see how their professional goals and strengths might fit in with your organization.
Keep in Touch – If you’ve followed some of the tips above, you will build a talent pool of qualified candidates for entry-level positions. There are a variety of reasons why you might not be able to hire a skilled intern right off the bat, though: no current openings within the company, budgetary issues, or the intern’s school schedule, for example. Keep in touch with your former interns – even ones who are not as high on the list for recruitment – to regularly remind them that you are interested in their development and that you value all of the good work they did for the company. If they are in regular contact with you, not only will they be more likely to reach out when they are looking for a position, they will also be more inclined to recommend that their friends intern with your organization.
We hope you have found these tips for maximizing the value of your internship program to create a candidate pool of fresh talent useful! If you need assistance developing your program, or would like to discuss ways to attract young people to your company, please reach out to us today!