Intern Recruiting 101: Building a Successful Internship Program

Posted by Celine Castleman

With fall semester in full swing, companies around the country are getting ready to welcome a new group of interns. And since internships are becoming more and more popular each year, interns are now an increasingly valuable part of the American workforce. In fact, according to Time, more than 62% of 2017 graduates reported doing an internship during their time in college. That’s a 24% increase from 2008. What’s more, since employees who begin as interns often have a higher retention rate, internship programs can be a great way for employers to grow new talent.

If you don’t currently have an internship program in place, don’t worry. Setting one up is easier than you think. What’s more, it can integrate seamlessly into your existing hiring strategy and help you create a robust talent pipeline in the process. Here are some things to keep in mind as you get started.

Determine your company’s internship needs

Hiring interns to help with company operations is great, but it’s important to understand how they differ from full-time employees. According to the Department of Labor, in addition to having different compensation regulations, internships should also be structured as learning experiences. This means they should offer on-the-job training that’s similar to the education interns receive during their time in college. 

When developing your internship program, it’s important to keep the interns’ needs in mind. A great way to do this is to sit down with your leadership team and talk about existing projects that could be good educational experiences. These can include anything from tech projects that can help interns learn the ins and out of programming to marketing initiatives that can offer a hands-on feel for the industry. Regardless of the role, your internships should be mutually beneficial to both the intern and your company.

Know the different internship cycles

Internship programs generally align with college schedules so fall, spring, and summer are the key seasons to focus on (with winter also offering the opportunity for short internships while students are on break from classes). 

Once you’ve outlined your internship needs, you can start to develop your recruiting strategy and to decide whether you want to create an internship program that spans the full year or to focus on one or two seasons instead. Depending on what you decide, you’ll want to keep key recruitment dates in mind so that you don’t miss out on hiring great interns. Here’s a quick outline:

  • Fall internships generally run from Labor Day to early December with the bulk of recruitment taking place between July and early September.  
  • Winter internships are the shortest, usually taking place from late December to mid-January. As a result, they often have a faster recruiting timeline which typically lasts from November to early December.
  • Spring internships usually run from January to May, with the bulk of recruitment taking place in November and December. 
  • Summer internships generally run from Memorial Day to early August, with recruitment taking place between February and April.

After you’ve established your strategy and timeline, it’s time to jump in and start recruiting. The best way to do this is to establish relationships with nearby college campuses and enlist their help to find the talent you want.

Make your intern recruiting strategy part of your overall recruiting strategy

While creating an internship program is great, it’s only one piece of the hiring puzzle. In order to align your intern recruiting strategy with your overall hiring strategy, it’s important to have a clear sense of how interns fit into your talent pool and how you can use internships as an opportunity to nurture talent that can move your company forward. This means looking at your current and future staffing needs to figure out how you may be able to bring interns on as full-time team members once they’ve completed their internships.

In addition to reducing hiring and training costs—after all, existing interns already know your business—investing in your interns this way can lead them to become engaged employees. In fact, according to NACE’s "2019 Internship & Co-op Survey Report," the one-year retention rate for new hires who were previously interns with the company is 71.4%, while new hires who were not company interns have a retention rate of only 59%. Pretty staggering, right?

Building a successful intern program may seem challenging at first, but it can add value to your company while also helping interns gain the experience they need. By following these steps, you can create a successful program while also building a talent pipeline for the future.

Want to improve your overall recruiting strategy? Learn how to overcome a talent shortage and three tips for building a seasonal recruiting strategy.

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