Turn Your Intern Program into a Growth Driver?
Now that "intern season" is upon us, here are five
things you can do to turn your internship program into a steady source of
By Amy Reichanadter
recognize internships are important: According to the National Association of
Colleges and Employers, eight out of 10 use them to recruit entry-level talent.
However, not all programs are set up to take full advantage of all interns have
to offer. They should be, and here's why: By 2020, Generation Z -- the
demographic represented in the current batch of interns -- will make up 20
percent of the workforce, according to a 2016 Robert Half report (and, they'll
be your customers as well).
There are distinct pay-offs for organizations that rethink how
they value entry-level talent. For one, a program that challenges interns with
meaningful work has a clear advantage in recruiting the best and brightest. In
fact, a full two-thirds (67 percent) of interns are offered full-time
positions, according to NACE's 2017 Internship & Co-op Report. This
makes hiring top interns a clear competitive advantage and a strategic
component of building a world class team. And, former interns tend to have high
levels of loyalty, with 52 percent of employers reporting a five-year retention
rate for interns converted to full-time hires.
Two years ago, we radically reimagined how our organization
would recruit, integrate and interact with interns. We asked questions we hadn't
asked before: What type of leadership do interns respond to? How do we
cultivate and nurture those traits in tomorrow's leaders? What do they need to
be successful? How do we provide an active learning experience where our
interns can obtain hands-on experience with strategic business issues? Rather
than hypothesize about what might work, we went directly to the source and
looked to our interns for answers.
We adopted many of their recommendations, and in the process we
not only retained some rising stars who previously might have gone elsewhere
after college, but doubled our applicant pool as well.
Here's what we learned:
Encourage (and deliver)
opportunities for interns to demonstrate their value from the start by
embedding interns into small-team projects. Public Strategies, a Hill +
Knowlton public affairs consultancy in Austin, does this with its fellowship
program. "We place a lot of emphasis on being self-sufficient," says
Katie McCall, who was a Public Strategies fellow during her final semester at
St. Edward's University in Austin. "They tell you, 'Introduce yourself and
get to know people and get on projects. Find your own team. Find accounts where
you can add value.'" While such a self-starter environment may not be for
everyone, it was perfect for McCall, who joined Public Strategies full-time
immediately following her fellowship, and eventually oversaw a team of fellows
Give interns a way to
learn real-world lessons and skills throughout their experience. Here at
Adaptive Insights, interns attend training workshops on topics ranging from
project management and communication to resume writing and networking. As they
learn, they apply those new skills directly to office situations and on
cross-functional, strategic projects. You'll find a similar ethos at Evercore,
an investment banking advisory firm whose summer associates program was ranked
No. 1 on Vault.com for 2016 and 2017. Evercore
encourages summer associates to join full-time employees in monthly
professional development classes.
Encourage creativity and
independent thinking. Placing strategic constraints on people and projects can
trigger some inventive approaches (think shrinking healthcare budgets leading
to low-cost telemedicine). We've seen this firsthand. At the end
of every 10-week internship cycle, we ask interns to present a working
recommendation around a strategic business issue. To encourage creativity, we
forbid the use of PowerPoint. The result? We see skits, signs, videos and
interactive games—creative presentations that often are much more effective.
Better still, our employees who crowd in to watch these presentations see how
constraints can jump-start creativity, and how curiosity and enthusiasm can
produce incredible output.
Ensure access to
executives. The greatest value from an internship comes from relationships,
and that includes executives. At Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers (KPCB), the
storied Silicon Valley venture capital firm, interns not only interact with
KPCB execs, but also with those at portfolio companies including Twitter,
Indiegogo, Spotify and Nest. This allows interns an opportunity to get the
broadest perspective on business, including the view from the top, as well as
the chance to meet potential long-term mentors.
Use personal interests to
fuel success. Most people – interns included - are more engaged when they're
allowed to pursue projects that align to their interests. At TidalScale, Chuck
Piercey's recent class of marketing interns included an English major from
Santa Clara University who wanted to learn video production. Piercey linked her
interests to a need he had, and she produced five slick corporate videos that
have proved popular as lead generation assets. "You want to give interns a
project that's achievable in 10 or 12 weeks," says Piercey. "But if
you align that project with their passion, they'll give you 20 or 24 weeks of
work. And they'll get twice as much out of the program."
This year, we received 4,000 applications for just 23 internship
spots. Harder to quantify, but just as important, are the executives and
managers who regularly stop me in the hall to rave about the intern who
contributed a creative idea in the department's brainstorming meeting or
suggested a novel approach to a difficult roadblock -- or simply offered
insights into the next generation. We all have a responsibility to make sure
the talent in this up and coming generation is realized. By rethinking how you
value entry-level talent, and then reflecting that new thinking in
well-designed internship programs, you'll ensure that the contributions of
these young professionals long outlive their 10 weeks at your company.
Amy Reichanadter is chief people officer at Adaptive Insights.