How to Attract Top Interns

The key to any successful business is developing and retaining top talent, but do you want top interns?  For any business, bringing in fresh eyes and creative personalities can spark life into an organization. One of the easiest ways to do this is through a strong internship program, allowing employers to increase staff and ideas but at a lower price and without long term commitments.  However, it’s not as easy as it may sound, creating a mutually beneficial program and acquiring top talent will take time and effort.

The Program

To receive the greatest benefit and value it is best to create a well-structured program that has clarity and effective communication channels before you make your first hire.  The first step is assigning a direct intern manager, this provides clarity and structure for both the interns and upper level managers.  This individual is responsible for ensuring the internship is mutually beneficial. Students do not want to run coffee and file papers all day and will only decrease the value of your program and make it more difficult to attract the top talent. The greatest source of learning comes from a mentor mentee relationship and working together in real world situations, this is what top talent want to be doing. Tasking interns with real world projects or putting them on a team of employees, providing intrinsic motivation as they can see the progress and value they bring to the organization.

In addition to assignments it is very important to be flexible with time.  Top talent are likely to be devoted students who are widely involved on and off campus. This may make a typical 9-5 internship commitment unrealistic.  Situations vary case by case but an applicants inability to commit to 30 “traditional” hours should not rule them out.  Lastly, provide them with a tangible portfolio of all their work.  Internship programs vary dramatically and the word “intern” on a resume can mean many different things in terms of value.  By having a portfolio of work and accomplishments, you enable the now entry-level worker to visibly express the value he can bring to an organization.  This will not only help your prior employee but help your programs reputation.  The success and professional growth of prior interns will motivate other aspiring students to work for you.

The People

You may have created the greatest internship program imaginable, but without the right people it means nothing.  Most important is the program manager, this should not be an entry level worker or simply extra paperwork for another employee.  Students want a knowledgeable professional who can relate to their challenges, but most importantly, someone who allows the interns to learn from what the manager has done and experienced.  With a strong leader in place we must now find the talent, ideally at your local universities.  You might think that going into an entry level class will achieve the task, but it will not.  A lower level required class will only have a few highly motivated individuals.  Look more into industry relevant clubs and organizations on campus, such as the business fraternity or public speaking club.  Students with self-motivation and drive join these clubs, it is these individuals you want representing your company both in the office and on campus.  When you find an applicant pool it is important to treat their interview and hire process as you would a full time employee.  Make sure to keep in mind, however, that their resumes may not be fully developed and the greater focus should on their work ethic, motivation, and character.  After you have established the program manager and hired your first intern, or team of interns,  it is important to develop a relationship with free flowing ideas but remember, this may be a student’s first glance at the professional world and you’re setting the precedent.

The Challenges

There are many challenges associated with interns that must be overcome, such as pay.  This may be the toughest consideration when deciding to bring interns onboard and the answer may vary.  If your organization is well known and a strong industry leader with a developed internship program then top talent may be willing to work for free. Otherwise, top talent will require a competitive wage.  Another challenge when hiring students with little to no experience is that the risk can be high.  They may miss shifts regularly, quit unexpectedly, or simply not fit in to the company, culture or industry. Internships are an exploratory exercise for students and their “real-life” experience may not be what either of you hoped. Additionally, for some complex industries with a steep learning curve, the semester could be over by the time an intern becomes proficient in the business processes of the organization.

Every organization will experience different challenges and each requires a unique response. Developing a great program and finding top talent will be challenging but your organization will see great benefits over time. Hiring interns can completely change an organization or an office dynamic.  Don’t be locked in the past, lead your organization confidently into the business world of tomorrow with the students of today.

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(About the Author: Kevin is a marketing and sales team member at DATIS, a leading provider of position control human resource (HR) and payroll software-as-a-service (SaaS) for behavioral health and human services agencies. Their best-in-class, cloud-based software is a complete solution, covering HRPosition ControlPayrollTimekeepingBenefits AdministrationRecruitingTalentCredential Management and Workforce Analytics. By leveraging a complete administrative services solution from a single service provider, their customers reduce expenses and risks, increase compliance and revenue, maximize the resources directly devoted to their missions and enjoy a superior customer service experience.)

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