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Internships solve a different need for different companies. Many startups love hiring interns because they don’t have the funds to hire a full-time employee. Others might want fresh, top-talent straight out of college. Medium-sized companies may view internships as a great way to expand their talent pool without too much risk. Larger companies often have sophisticated internship programs that not only offer experience to the incoming intern, but give him or her the chance at a long-term positions. On the other hand, many companies still view interns as extra hands, a person who grabs coffee and makes copies.

Students have their own reasons for seeking out internships. When unemployment is high, an internship may give them an edge over their internship-free counterpart. In a highly competitive environment, students may vie for internships to get their foot in the door in a prized company or industry. Some students seek out internships to see if they’ll appreciate a certain field before committing to majoring in it. Almost all students seek to get their feet wet and get some experience under their belt and onto their resumes.

While all companies are different in the way they strategize internship programs, some don’t take into consideration that these interns shift from student recruitment into a talent pool the recruitment team can source from. Internships provide a source of candidates who have the necessary education, have already been vetted, are often already on company payroll and very likely understand and fit into the culture. Internships provide:

  • A glimpse into the future of your company
  • The ability to build mentorship and reverse mentoring in your organization
  • A talent pool with built-in loyalty
  • The chance to create a highly-skilled recruitment group to source from tomorrow or next year

Students are the Future…Candidates

It seems obvious, but so many times we forget that the students of today are the leaders of tomorrow. Not only will students become your employees, they’ll continue their careers and become managers, directors, executives and leaders. Internships are a great way to prepare your company and your interns to prep for this new generation. While much of the buzz has been around Millennials, we’re now looking at how companies can manage Gen Z!

If you’re recruiting now for summer interns, they just might be in Generation Z. If your company is still struggling with meeting the work-flex demands of Gen Y, you might want to begin preparing yourselves for a generation that:

  • May not have a traditional degree
  • Desires specific management of tasks
  • Are extremely ambitious, but in an entrepreneurial sense
  • Need to be challenged regularly
  • Prefers 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 might have been homeschooled, or perhaps he acquired self-taught skills through online courses. Maybe she attended coding school or camp. Work with your hiring team to educate them around how to source from this pool of talented young workers.

This is also a trial run for the student, as they will get to experience real-world challenges, get an idea of what type of culture they like and what company they would like to work for, all without the risk of commitment.

After the internship has been completed, many interns and companies may part ways, but if there are open entry-level positions at your organization, it may be a better idea to keep them around. Just check out the facts:

  • Internships offer companies a handful of untapped talent. According to Forbes if you are a college student or graduate and you are working at a paid internship, 60% of the time, that internship will turn into a job offer.
  • Up to 80% of an organization’s opportunity for improvement comes from front-line employee ideas. This does indeed include interns — students are full of fresh ideas with outsider perspectives.

Even if you and your intern decide not to work together immediately after the internship, keep their records updated. This is a talent source and potential referral source, so don’t let it languish. If your company does referral hiring or boomer hiring, then it should ensure it’s keeping up with the skills and career path of interns. By doing so, you have the opportunity to nurture these candidates to possibly come back as an employee after graduation or even join an apprenticeship program.

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 in their classes with their peers and friends — which can motivate other students to apply for your internship program or seek out full-time opportunities with your company. You can boost this effect even further by creating leaderboards, contests and referral bonuses.

Essentially, your intern becomes a brand ambassador for your company, and by creating a great program and offering them real work, you can increase the chances they’ll talk to their friends about your amazing company.

Learning new things and building specific skills on actual projects creates feelings of achievement and fulfillment, and helps your company expand its reputation and create a talent pool within the university.

Evaluate and Develop

Internships are what you make of them. The effort you put in for your interns determines how the program will go, the type of experience and knowledge they will receive and the ROI that your company will get out of it. So, what do a lot of companies overlook? Planning beyond the duration of the program and considering where your intern could fit in as an employee — if their work ethic is compatible with the company’s expectations.

A potential candidate is in your hands and this is your chance to develop a pipeline of potential hires from the program. Is your company struggling to hire in a certain department? Is your candidate pool drying up? Universities are full of potential talent and skilled students who are waiting for these types of opportunities. Your internship program isn’t just a great experience for students, it offers your company the opportunity to instill your organization’s values and mission upon interns while they train for a potential position in your company.

Interns are your very own talent pool, while they may only be an intern for a short amount of time, they start to engage with your company culture, they learn the in’s and out’s of their role in the company and understand the overall mission of the company. The training you put into your interns can have a lasting ROI when the time comes for needing an employee to fill a particular position.

Do you want to start an internship program or boost the one you have? Here are some ideas:

  • Ask your people. Some companies create internship programs without asking whether the 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 a short staff.
  • Rotate your interns. Internships are designed to expose students to specific parts of the business, but there’s absolutely no harm in ensuring they get a taste of every departments. Your employees need vacations, have sick days and likely busy seasons. 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 a junior employee to Intern Coordinator and allow him or her to 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 and unsure who to ask for more work.
  • Create a guide for your interns. There should be a place, printed or online, that your interns can refer to, to understand the details of their internships and what is expected. From professional dress and demeanor, to how to BCC someone, you need to spell out in detail how working for your company…works.
  • Prep your workplace. Your intern needs a dedicated space if you can spare it, the right technology to do the tasks assigned and all the office systems explained by a more senior intern or employee.