It’s internship season!
On college campuses across the nation, students are eagerly anticipating a summer spent learning about the industry of their dreams, getting hands-on experience doing what they’re passionate about, and — hopefully — walking away in the fall with a job offer.
In theory, an internship is a sweet deal for everyone involved: the intern gains valuable experience to put on their resume, and the company gets an inexpensive temporary employee.
Unfortunately, in real life, this situation opens up a lot of room for catastrophe.
We consulted several of the companies on Vault’s top 10 internship programs of 2010, as well as the senior education editor at Vault who chooses them, Carolyn C. Wise, to find out how to run an excellent internship program.
Here’s how you can ensure the experience benefits both your company and your interns.
All of our sources agreed that on-campus recruiting is the best way to find stellar candidates.
'Our recruiting is relationship-driven,' says Blane Ruschak, Executive Director of University Relations and Recruiting at KPMG. The company develops strong relationships with potential interns over time: they spend time on campus, attend recruiting events, and participate in school activities, such as leadership programs.
By the time the students are ready to apply for an internship, they already have a relationship with the company.
Nickelodeon's intern recruiters Ashley Morley and Josilin Torrano make a point of cultivating relationships with on-campus career centres, and being sure that they're always available.
If you don't have the luxury of time or resources to devote to recruiting like this, you can try the online strategy that Nickelodeon uses in addition to their on-campus recruiting. Specifically, they recommend using the University Career Action Network, a internship-posting site that targets elite schools.
Additionally, you should advertise on your own site, Craigslist, standard job sites, and other sites specific to your industry.
An orientation session is the first thing you should do with your interns to introduce them to your corporate culture and set the expectations for their behaviour.
'We go through our expectations, standards, dress code... everything they need to know so they're fully prepared to do work in our offices,' Morley and Torrano say.
Setting them up with a full-time employee who is close in age is a good idea. At KPMG, interns are assigned a 'buddy', a former intern who is around the same age and preferably from the same area or school.
Ruschak explains that this person can offer the day-to-day advice that an intern might not want to ask their supervisor -- questions such as 'What should I wear to this client meeting?' or 'Where's the best place to park?', etc. -- as well as serving as a mentor.
While hiring and when your intern is starting out, make sure you communicate very clearly what the intern is going to be doing, and what your goals and expectations for them are.
Lauren Berger, founder of Intern Queen, tells us that failing to do this is the worst mistake an employer can make. You want to be completely up-front with your intern, so they know exactly what they're going to be doing, and what's expected of them.
A disconnect between intern and employer expectations will almost always lead to a bad internship experience for both parties.
You can't run a great internship program if you just look at your interns as free labour. You have to give them legitimate projects and real work experience in order for the whole thing to be worthwhile.
Vault's Wise says, 'When choosing the top internships, the best internships, the first thing we ask is what did the intern learn? What is he walking away with? How can he use the internship experience to continue on his career path?'
'The prestige of a program is the obvious resume gold star, but if you're making copies and coffee all summer the name won't matter,' she continues.
All of our sources said that a main goal of their internship programs is to find new full-time hires. If that's your goal too, you'll want to train them properly with real work and make sure they can handle it before you offer them a position.
As a rule, 'we never give interns anything we wouldn't do ourselves.... We have a saying: 'If you're getting coffee, you're getting coffee for yourself,'' laugh Morley and Torrano. 'The main goal is to hire them at the end. We want to give them real projects and learning opportunities.'
Ruschak says that KPMG interns are 'given new-hire level work, with added supervision.'
If you've picked great candidates and armed them with top-notch training, they should be able to handle the work.
Of course, it's not a good idea to hand off a major client to your novice employee. An intern is going to require a little more supervision. You should establish a formal process of checking-in and giving feedback.
Southwest's head of Team Leader Employment Greg Muccio says, 'Even when it is an independent project, I would set up milestone meetings to make sure they are on track and comfortable if they haven't been asking questions all along.'
At KPMG, every intern is assigned to a performance manager and a supervisor. After each client interaction or assignment completion, their supervisor evaluates their performance and submits the record to the performance manager, who tracks their overall progress.
It's a system of 'constant reviews and feedback,' Ruschak says.
'Companies should look at their internship programs and determine if all the elements are there: real-world learning, mentoring, networking, training, challenge, etc.,' says Wise. 'If you have all those elements, you will gain an intern class that is engaged, excited and working really hard for your company.'
Berger seconds that sentiment, adding that the best internships come from employers who obviously put a lot of time and thought into planning their programs, as well as giving them 'access to the top executives, learning seminars, and industry events,' on top of real, hands-on work experiences.
At KPMG, Ruschak measures the success of the program by how many interns they give offers to at the end of the term, as well as how many actually accept those offers. He reports that both stats average at 90%.
For Southwest, a good report card from the intern is another goal: 'The biggest compliment we can receive is to have that Intern go back to campus and tell a peer, Professor, or their Career centre about our program,' Muccio says.
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