The true value of your intern program (and how to make it better next year)

As the end of the year approaches, it’s the perfect time to start thinking ahead to next year’s internship programs. Not only can you start tinkering with what did and didn’t work, but you can start looking for ways to leverage your intern pool to build your talent network to help offset the current labor shortage. 

iCIMS’ group of 40 rock star interns spent last summer completing important projects across the organization while honing the skills they’ll need to succeed in their careers, according to Mackenzie Egan, Director of Talent Experience at iCIMS.

This year, iCIMS’ intern program was named one of the top 100 in the country by WayUp, joining the likes of Lumen, CitiGroup, and Twitter. In particular, iCIMS was highlighted for developing a curriculum of classes on sought-after skills like sharing and receiving feedback and cultivating a next-level professional brand.  

Internship programs aren’t only great resume builders for students that give them a head start on their careers. They are also a valuable source of top talent for recruiters to fill future roles. Your internship program can be a critical building block for creating your talent network. 

What is a talent network? 

For years, TA professionals have focused on bringing candidates into the talent funnel instead of taking advantage of talent that’s already there. Of course, this means silver medal candidates and passive job seekers. But it can also be applied to interns. 

Competition for top talent is fierce. According to iCIMS’ recent jobs report, the current hiring boom has created stiff competition for employers trying to fill more and more roles with a dwindling pool of applicants.  

“If you approach an internship program as a workforce planning strategy, aside from providing a career-centric learning opportunity for the students, you’re also building an important talent pool,” says Egan. 

By retaining talent already in your hiring funnel, you’re one step closer to filling open positions with early career talent that your team has already vetted. But you’ll need to keep their eyes on you and not let them get distracted by other recruiters’ dangling offers. 

Treat your interns like customers 

Take a page from consumer marketers and consider treating those potential candidates like customers by developing brand loyalty that keeps them engaged with your organization.  

Think of your interns as your brand ambassadors who will share their experience working for your company with their networks via social media and word-of-mouth. Consider having interns create video content addressing topics like company culture or sharing their experience in your program that you can post on your early career site or social media platforms. 

Above all, you want to make sure their experience is a positive one. Here are some best practices to consider while planning for next year’s programs to make memorable impressions on your interns: 

  • What do the first few days look like? The right onboarding can establish a memorable first impression on eager interns. Use an onboarding tool to help get smaller tasks done ahead of time, so you have more time to focus on acclimating interns to each other and the organization during those first few days.
  • What is the role managers will play? Ensure each intern’s manager is aligned with the program’s overall goals and can communicate them to their team before day one. 
  • How is your culture incorporated into the program? Add in a little bit of fun and show off your company culture along the way. Pre-plan a calendar of summer events for interns, such as volunteering, company meetings, or socials outside of day-to-day tasks. 
  • Assign the right mentors.  Mentors can establish a clear path for an individual to follow and share advice based on experience, hosting regular one-on-one sessions in addition to formal performance reviews to establish a candid environment for feedback and questions about the internship experience overall. 
  • Establish opportunities to grow cross-functionally. Make sure interns have exposure to other areas of the company. Allowing them to work on projects across departments as your team representative can give them a feeling of purpose and an opportunity to contribute to their team. 
  • Set up personal exit interviews. Take time to offboard each intern to get feedback before they return to school. Ask them engaging questions and generate conversation about specific topics you’d like feedback on, such as their summer project or day-to-day workload. You’ll get valuable insight into the areas of their program that were successful and the other areas that need improvement.  

Even after you’ve wished all your interns well and they’ve headed back to campus, there’s still an advantage to keeping them engaged and informed.  

Keep your interns engaged after you’ve said goodbye 

Ongoing engagement not only builds a diverse and highly skilled workforce but a community of potential customers. Here are some ideas for how you can keep your interns engaged, which can build your talent network and help reduce your time to fill: 

  • Host a campus recruiting eventLeverage your intern’s connection with their college or university to host a recruitment event as an additional way to stay in touch. Then, ask your intern to attend and spread the word. Chances are, as your brand ambassador, they’ll come with more top talent in tow. 
  • Stay connected with email and social media.  Email marketing campaigns are an easy way to stay connected and keep former interns up-to-date with the latest company news and job openings. A strong management CRM tool lets recruiters share personalized corporate updates with their candidate pools. So, when your intern graduates and enters the job market, he or she will know of available job openings at your company. 
  • Promote your brand externally with employee resource group events that allow interns to elect into programs. This allows you to expand your pool for diversity and nurture your starting lineup of candidates 

Keeping your intern pool engaged following a positive experience working in their roles is a smart way to tap into talent already in your hiring funnel for future open positions.  

“TA professionals know how hard it is to secure the right talent,” says Egan. ”A well-thought-out internship program provides managers with a preview of the next class of graduates. It is the perfect opportunity to engage and hire early career talent before they hit the workforce.”  

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Rethink traditional candidate pools by creating your own talent network.  

If you want to keep your intern pipeline engaged after heading back to campus, download this infographic. 

Download How to Treat Your Candidates Like Customers Infographic

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