Internship programs can solve a variety of problems. Many startups love hiring interns because they don’t have the funds to hire enough full-time employees, while others might want top talent straight out of college. Additionally, many companies of all sizes view internship programs as great ways to expand their talent pools without much risk.
Students have their own reasons for seeking out internships. When unemployment is high, an internship may give them an edge over other job seekers. In a highly competitive environment, students may vie for internships to get a foot in the door of a prized company or industry. Some students seek out internships to test out a field before committing to a related major. Almost all interns appreciate the chance to get some relevant experience under their belts and onto their resumes.
Companies vary in the ways they strategize their internship programs, and some don’t realize that their programs can become valuable talent pools. Internship programs provide a source of candidates who have the necessary education, have already been vetted, and fit into the culture. Leveraged properly, an internship program offers your company the chance to create a highly skilled pool from which to source new talent tomorrow or next year.
Students Are the Future
The students of today are the leaders of tomorrow. Not only will students become your employees, but they will also continue their careers and become managers, directors, executives, and leaders. Internship programs are a great way to prepare your company — and your interns — for the next generation of the business landscape.
Speaking of the next generation: There’s a good chance that many of your current and future interns are Gen. Z-ers. While many companies are still struggling to get a handle on meeting millennials’ workplace wants, Gen. Z-ers bring their own unique traits and desires to the table. For example:
- Many Gen. Z-ers do not have or plan to pursue traditional degrees.
- Many are extremely ambitious and entrepreneurial.
- They need to be challenged regularly.
- They prefer face-to-face communication.
When designing an internship program that can serve as a sourcing opportunity later, don’t forget to take generational differences into account. Your next Generation Z intern may have been homeschooled, or they may have acquired skills through online courses. Work with your hiring team to educate them on how to appeal to these talented young workers.
After the internship has been completed, many interns and companies may part ways. However, if there are open entry-level positions at your organization, it may be better to keep the intern around. Consider that as much as 80 percent of an organization’s opportunity for improvement comes from ideas share by front-line employees. This does indeed include interns: Students are full of fresh ideas, and their outsider perspectives can be incredibly valuable to innovation efforts.
Even if the intern decides not take a full-time job with your company, keep their records on hand and updated. Stay in touch, and don’t let the relationship languish. This way, you can nurture the former intern to possibly return at a later date, offer up referrals, or even join an apprenticeship program at your company.
Build Your Internship Program Through Word of Mouth
Nothing travels faster than by word of mouth, especially on a college campus. If your interns have a positive experience and are excited about their internship, they are likely to share their experience with their peers and friends, which can motivate other students to apply for your internship program.
Essentially, your intern can become a valuable brand ambassador for your company. By creating a great program and offering interns real work, you increase the chances they’ll talk to their friends about your amazing company.
Interns want to learn new things and build specific skills while working on actual projects. This creates feelings of achievement and fulfillment, and your intern will share these feelings with others, thereby expanding and improving your company’s reputation on campus.
Effort = ROI
Internships are what you make of them. The effort you put in determines how the program will go for interns and the ROI your company will get out of it.
Unfortunately, many companies overlook critical aspects of their internship programs. In particular, organizations often fail to plan beyond the duration of the program. With each intern, a potential new hire is in your hands. This is your chance to develop a steady stream of new talent. Your internship program isn’t just a great experience for students: It offers your company the opportunity to instill its values and mission in a new generation of workers while training them for potential employment with your company. If you don’t approach your internship program from this angle, you are failing to get the full value.
Internship Program Best Practices
Do you want to start an internship program or improve the one you have? Here are some ideas:
- Ask your people. Some companies create internship programs without asking whether departments or teams have time to manage them. Avoid this by simply surveying your current employees to determine where, and for how long, an intern will be helpful.
- Use your interns where needed. Many companies only use interns when they have extra administrative tasks. Instead, offer your interns real experience by supplementing departments that are short on staff.
- Rotate your interns. Internships should expose students to specific parts of the business, but there’s absolutely no harm in ensuring each intern gets a taste of every department. Your employees need vacations, have sick days, and face busy periods. Rotate your interns so they can help fill some of these gaps.
- Use interns to train new managers. Have your eye on someone to promote but are unsure how they’ll take to managing others? Appoint the employee to intern coordinator and allow them flex those managerial muscles — with oversight, of course.
- Keep weekly or daily tabs on your interns. Checklists and check-ins make sure your intern isn’t lacking something to do.
- Create a guide for your interns. There should be a centralized location, printed or online, to which your interns can refer for more information on the details of the program and what is expected. From professional dress and demeanor to how to BCC someone, you need to spell out in detail how successful employees operate in your company.
- Prep your workplace. Your intern needs a dedicated space if you can spare it, the right technology to complete their tasks, and an understanding of relevant workflows and processes.
A version of this article originally appeared on the Oleeo blog.
Jeanette Maister is managing director of the Americas for Oleeo.