Stop Wasting Your Intern's Potential And Get Your Own Coffee

They're not just for running coffee and making copies anymore. How to fully realize your internship program's potential.

Internships are a big business these days. As full-time jobs remain hard to secure for many millennials, young people eager to gain skills and work experience fill the intern ranks (often starting as early as high school and frequently extending past college graduation).

Despite a few high-profile companies like Conde Nast ending their programs, Lauren Berger, CEO of the internship portal InternQueen.com reports that “our phone keeps ringing with employers.”

But just because companies want interns and young people want internships doesn’t mean all programs are constructed thoughtfully. The internship program, in terms of priority, is often “the lowest on the list,” says Berger, whose new book, Welcome to the Real World, will be out in April. There may be an intern coordinator, but companies often pawn this job off “to an entry-level employee who might not have enough on her plate.” Interns wind up doing whatever basic tasks people can think of around the office (data entry, filing) without much strategy involved.

That’s fine if you just need extra manpower, but if so, in an era of high-profile lawsuits over intern pay, you may be better off using a temp agency. A smarter approach is to think about how you can best use your interns to achieve both your goals and theirs.

Think of interns as future employees--even if you can't hire them full time.

At the most fundamental level, interns want a full-time job, eventually, and you want competent people who know how to do their jobs on the day you hire them.

These desires can mesh together. At Deloitte--a staple on Vault.com’s list of top internship programs--the internship program represents a “pretty significant pipeline,” says Scott McQuillan, national recruiting leader, Deloitte Tax LLP. The goal is to hire as many of the interns as possible within one to two years--which makes recruiting more efficient--and the program has “a very high conversion rate” thanks to the training and experience interns gain.

After a one day company orientation, interns go through a week of training related to the business unit they’ll be staffed on. Then they spend their internships working directly on client engagements. “They are treated very similarly to the way we would utilize a full-time hire,” McQuillan says, albeit with extra mentorship and constructive feedback to ease the transition into a professional environment.

Another potential way to get the most out of your interns? Deploy them to manage workflow. Deloitte, for instance, has a number of interns start in January and work through April 15 to correspond with tax season.

Use Their Age to Your Advantage

Perhaps the best strategy, though is to think about what, generationally, interns can bring to your business. In Deloitte’s case, “We have a lot of millennials--they’re the majority of our workforce,” says McQuillan, so the interns aren’t generationally different from many other people on their teams. However, if your organization isn’t so young, you might start thinking about what the interns know that you don’t.

Berger notes that interns are often well-versed in the apps and hacks out there. “Students are using programs that are going to help your business run more efficiently, that you’ve never thought of,” she says. Berger isn’t that old herself, and yet a recent hire introduced her to Doodle, Sign-Up Genius, and the website Thought Catalog. She notes that a number of other employers have interns work on their Instagram projects, figuring that they’re natives in these sorts of programs.

Indeed, the Millennial Branding and Internships.com survey found that the most common way companies were using high school-aged interns was to help with social media marketing. “The perception is that students already have these skills and employers are interested in how they are using them,” says Dan Schawbel of Millennial Branding.

Beyond that, you can also use interns for insight into youth culture in general, or into youthful perception of your products and services. “It’s always a good idea to be open to their ideas,” says Berger, though she notes that “As an employer you have to walk a fine line.” If you tell interns that you want to hear their feedback, “you have to show them there’s a time and place for their feedback.” When she was an intern at FOX years ago, a VP would have the interns sit in his office regularly and “just kind of give our thoughts on some projects FOX had going on that year.” If everyone’s obsessed with the 18 to 35 demographic, why not use the people you have in your office who are in this age range?

You can also use your interns as youthful brand ambassadors. “We want them to share their experience they’ve had with us,” McQuillan notes, adding that Deloitte will often host dinners for former interns, and invite them to bring friends. “We ask our former interns to utilize their networks and introduce us to students they may know,” who often become interns and eventual hires themselves.

[Image: Flickr user Ansel Edwards]

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2 Comments

  • Great article. I especially appreciate "Use their age to your advantage." My company implements business mentoring programs, and we are focusing this year on understanding Millennials needs, wants, and desires in the workforce so that we can help companies to use them to their full advantage. Thanks for the great piece!