Struggling to Find Talent? Consider Summer Interns!

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By Jim Tam
May 11, 2022
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It’s well known that companies today are desperate to fill open positions. In April 2022, employers added 428,000 new jobs and the unemployment rate remains at only 3.6%. And even as companies are trying new ways to lure talent such as paying higher salaries, providing more perks, and bending policies to support the work/life integration that employees seek, many are still struggling to hire enough workers to fill open positions.

As the end of the school year approaches, one possible solution for companies to fill some open roles is to hire summer interns. Although most interns may be a little light on work experience, this pool of talented and eager students might be just the right solution for some open positions – or at least a stop gap until a more permanent candidate is available. I’ve worked for organizations where there’s a huge commitment to summer internship programs and I can say first-hand that not only can summer interns be a valuable labor force but it’s also a great “try before you buy” model for future hires. 

Keys to success

Here are a few things companies must do to install a high-quality summer internship program which not only enables interns to contribute to the business but also incentivizes them to be active brand ambassadors for the company upon return to campus. By providing an enriching summer work experience for the interns, you create an army of recruiters to promote the company and attract potential new hires.

Experiential onboarding

The difference between a summer “internship” and a summer “job” is the programmatic elements which interns can access. And to formally kick off the summer experience, make sure you have a well-designed onboarding program. Ideally, all interns would start on the same day and the orientation would be a live, in-person experience. However, in today’s world that is less likely to happen. With different end-of-year school calendars, varying locations including remote, personal commitments, etc., consider a digital, asynchronous onboarding program solution where interns can be onboarded on their timeline. And include in the program not only the necessary information (company info, org charts, directory) but digital intros from leadership and a feel for the company’s culture.

Hybrid learning and network opportunities

A summer internship program typically runs 8-12 weeks. During these weeks, install ample opportunities for the interns to learn and network. Activities can range from formal presentations featuring senior leadership and/or outside speakers, to social events with other interns, and virtual learning experiences on the company’s LMS. The more exposure interns get to the business and corporate culture, the more data points inform whether it’s a good fit for both long-term. 

Seat at the table

To provide an insider’s view of company culture and strategy, offer a peek behind the curtain by providing interns opportunities to attend meetings with senior level executives. These experiences can range from simple observation, to participating, to presenting a solution to address a company issue. This act of inclusion conveys trust and will deepen connections to the company.

Mentorship

Matching interns with mentors provides an informal, risk-free channel for interns to ask questions and learn about the company. A successful mentor pairing strategy I’ve seen work is to match an intern with someone in another department, someone not too senior so they’re accessible, and perhaps someone from their alma mater; bonus points for mentors who were former summer interns and converted to full-time employees after graduation. Mentors not only provide informal guidance to the intern, but also serve as a recruiting ally should you want to hire this intern upon graduation.

Meaningful project

Although a great summer internship program can include all the elements above, you hired the intern to work on an important project which contributes to the growth of the business and to evaluate their long-term employment potential with your company. Therefore, you want to ensure that the interns have opportunities to work on challenging projects which allow them to learn and grow while also allowing you to assess their viability for full-time employment after graduation. Therefore, it’s best to have to them tackle projects they can own from beginning to end and that allow them to understand the impact of their project on the business. Some ideas for projects include customer segmentation analysis, competitive research, user acceptance testing, or any other projects that are short in duration yet have high impact.

Final Word 

Many summer internship programs fail because they are viewed as an “HR” initiative. Although someone in HR should be assigned to manage the program, internship programs work best when the business leaders are actively engaged and participating in the program. Their involvement can range from conducting interviews and active recruiting of desired applicants, to mentoring and executive sponsorship at the most senior levels. It takes commitment from everyone to run a successful summer internship program. But if done right, you will have built a channel to source and evaluate quality talent while enhancing your employer brand on campus.

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