The do’s and don’ts of recruiting summer interns

Posted February 15, 2017 by


Recruiting interns requires being strategic. Here are a few ideas.

The competition for talent ranks as one of the biggest challenges with recruiting interns.  Whether contending with large corporations that have more established programs, or smaller businesses with better compensation and perks, companies are only successful in the long term with an effective recruitment strategy and strong employment brand.

Developing the right recruitment strategy and implementing it on a consistent basis is critical.  Here are a few ways to become more strategic:

  • Host focus groups to learn how students perceive your employment brand, and what they are looking for in a potential employer
  • Encourage former or current interns to become ambassadors to further your reach on campus
  • Build and foster your school relationships, letting them know you’re open to new and unique opportunities to connect with students
  • Focus recruitment efforts in the fall. Your competition is probably recruiting interns to snap up top talent in January so it benefits you to start early.
  • Maintain a consistent message across all functions that are recruiting interns on campus, making sure what’s communicated aligns back to the larger organization.
  • Play up the positives of your company, being transparent about what a student may not feel is a benefit (students can see right through an inauthentic or generic message).
  • Increase your candidate pool and save on cost through virtual career fairs, info sessions, and video interviews.
  • Recruitment platforms, talent communities and niche job boards can help pinpoint candidates who you wish to hire.

Dig into a few pools that you might be missing.

Companies can broaden their candidate base through the use of talent communities and social media platforms.  A company’s own careers page can let students opt-in to receive notices about internship openings or related company news.  Social media platforms make recruiting interns easier by targeting and connecting with certain student populations (ex. HBCUs, STEM, MBA) through advanced filters and virtual presentations.

Second, develop relationships with students earlier in their academic career.  Juniors are the golden ticket because they are eligible for conversion offers, but encouraging freshman and sophomores to intern at your company will provide an opportunity to increase your candidate pool and grow your employment brand on campus.

Finally, non-traditional students bring more diversity to your internship class.  They may have delayed enrolling in college, are starting a second career, or transitioning from military to civilian life.  No matter the situation, the variety of experiences only increases the value of your program.

Onboarding can make or break a summer internship program.

Things start off on the wrong foot very quickly if you don’t have a smooth onboarding process for interns. Interns need to be prepared for their first day, and the manager must be properly trained on roles and expectations.  There are times when interns arrive with no one in the department knowing what to do.  The manager is on business travel, there is no desk space or computer available, and the intern spends the first week surfing the company’s intranet and wondering if they made the right decision.  This can turn around if the intern receives a thoughtful, challenging project.  It can be tempting to hire an intern to help with a spike in workload, but that is a short term solution that quickly fails as soon as the student steps through the doorway.  They need see the impact they can make on the organization, especially as it’s a window into what a fulltime role might be like.  For an employer to come out with high marks, a smooth onboarding process, a thoughtful project, and an engaged manager must be part of the program’s design.

Face the feedback from last year and make improvements.

Bill Gates once said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”   The most successful internship programs take this advice to heart by gathering feedback from both interns and managers throughout the summer and addressing any issues or gaps immediately.  A more formal exit interview process is also helpful, and can be easily administered through an online survey that allows for confidentiality.

Perhaps the most telling of an intern program’s success are conversion rates.  A company must track how many interns were offered full-time positions, and out of those, how many accepted.  Dig even deeper with metrics broken down by school, year over year.


Where companies go astray

Internship programs suffer when they have vague or under-communicate their hiring goals.  Everyone, including managers, school partners, and even vendors, should be familiar with and help contribute to the goals.  Bottom line – communicate them broadly.

Your program will also suffer if you don’t look at the metrics, study the ROI, and make adjustments each season as needed. You must be able to align the intern program to the larger organization’s business strategy.  For example, if the goal is to hire X amount of staff, show leadership how university recruitment can play a part, and play up the retention factor.

If your company doesn’t make your interns familiar with your mission statement or values, they won’t know how to incorporate them into their reviews, activities, and projects.



Heather Koenig recruitment program managerAbout Heather Koenig: Heather has more than 10 years’ experience in recruiting, and currently is a Program Manager for ADP’s Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) division, where she’s responsible for developing university recruiting strategies across the RPO client base.  Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with family and running the occasional half-marathon through California’s wine country. Connect with Heather on LinkedIn.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Posted in Advice for Employers and Recruiters | Tagged Tagged , , , , , , , ,