Developing an Internship Program – Lessons Learned

Posted by Malia on June 3, 2015

Tomorrow, our summer internship program begins. I have two amazing students on board, and I can’t wait! I love directing this program and have learned a lot about talent recruitment and development along the way. If you are interested in creating an internship program at your company, here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Create an equal playing field.

Develop a list of interview questions that you ask each candidate. Study your questions and become familiar with what you are asking. This will make your interview as natural and comfortable as possible. Plus, something an interviewee says in response to question 1 might lead to what you want to ask in question 15. Go with it, but make sure you have the questions in front of you in case you do jump around a bit.

While all candidates are unique and you will need to ask questions about their previous experience and skills, make sure interns have an equal opportunity to compete for the position by answering a set of the same questions.

It’s easy to get caught up in conversation, but do take notes during and after the interview. When you’re interviewing lots of people, it’s easy to forget things a candidate said a week ago. Don’t rely on your memory or your gut. Jot things down on a separate piece of paper during the interview (but don’t write on their resume, it will freak them out!) Also give yourself time after the interview to write your thoughts. For this reason, don’t schedule interviews too close together. You want time to reflect after each one. Create a mini file for each person you interview and hold on to it.

Intern candidates are also interviewing you.

Every interaction you have with potential interns is a direct reflection of your company. Email correspondence, phone calls, interviews, etc. — they all need to reflect your business values. Treat applicants the same way you would treat your clients and co-workers. Even if a candidate is not the right fit this year, students progress rapidly. They might come back the next year with an application that will blow your socks off. If a candidate has a negative experience with you, you can forget about them applying again.

Word of mouth recommendations are also important. If an internship candidate has a good experience (even if they didn’t get an offer), they are more likely to share your program with a professor, friend, or classmate.

Make it easy to say no.

As your program develops, you will get more applicants. Making decisions about who to interview is tough when you have to choose among so many talented students. So, when you are thinking about what credentials to look for, make the first step of the application a place to weed out people who do not meet basic requirements.

At Myriad, attention to detail is very important. We work under tight deadlines with executive-level clients. Our production team tries not to make mistakes! For our internship application, I create specific instructions. I want to know who pays attention to details and who does not. If students don’t follow the instructions, they don’t move forward. This tip might sound a little harsh, but finding ways to automate decisions will let you spend the time you need deliberating down the road.

Finally, you need to let everyone know the status of their application once the position has been filled. Students who spent time applying to your company deserve time from you to tell them the results. It is the right thing to do, even if it is not a fun call or email to make.

Provide value.

If you want your interns to care about you, you better care about them. Why do business if you can’t create mutual wins? If your interns are directly helping your business, make sure you are providing educational opportunities and assisting in their career development, too. At the beginning of the internship, sit down with each of your interns and find out what they are hoping to get from the program. What are they interested in learning more about? What are they passionate about? What are their strengths? If you get to know your interns and create business opportunities around their interests, you will see a higher level of success.

Recruitment strategies:

Now that Myriad’s internship program is fully developed, I have started to explore recruitment strategies. These are some things that have led to a higher number of applicants for our program over the years:

  1. Develop relationships with professors and career development offices. Once our internship application is live, I send it to professors and college career centers. Many send weekly emails to students with summer internship opportunities. These mentors want to help students succeed, but they are also protective and want to make sure their students have a positive experience with your agency. So, make sure you provide detailed information about all of the benefits of your program. They can also give you great advice about how to develop a stronger program. Ask them for help or ways to improve what you are doing.
  2. Visit university classrooms. Once you develop relationships with professors and development offices, find opportunities to present your program to classes. Visit 3-4 classes during your visit to get the most out of your trip. I typically visit video and communications departments. You can also reach out to other university clubs whose students are interested in pursuing your line of work (advertising clubs, student film societies, etc).
  3. Utilize social media. Promote to groups who can help spread the word, like local meet-ups or community groups. Develop tweets and always include a link to your application that you can share with them.
  4. Enlist the help of your co-workers. Once our application is posted, I ask my co-workers to spread the word to their networks. Some of them are quite active on social media, so it’s easy for them. For co-workers who are not as social savvy, I create a list of tweets and Facebook posts for them to copy and paste. Make it easy and thank them often!
  5. Post to university job boards. I get the most responses from this outlet. It takes a lot of time, but it’s worth it. Contact university career development departments if you can’t find the job board. They will always help you out.

If you have any questions or ideas, shoot me an email. Best of luck in your search for the perfect intern!