How to tweak your summer internship program

Posted March 26, 2018 by


Talent acquisition leaders can learn from real-time feedback this spring to improve their summer internship program. Recruiters have been working hard to warm up summer intern candidates, and there are several things they can listen for and communicate back to increase your hiring success. We interviewed Dr. Robert Shindell of Intern Bridge to gather some great insight, we combined it with our own expertise and pulled together 11 slides full of practical and impactful tips to improve your summer intern hiring

Single most important factor in delivering a great internship

The key that many employers miss is spending the time needed to plan more structure into the internship. When employers don’t plan for sufficient structure, they end up giving their interns to-do lists. That doesn’t develop the interns into the tailored workforce you need. Your internship program should be an amazing farm system for your talent.

Dr. Shindell says, “We have a generation of students who are told as early as first grade that real world work experience is important. Employers need to catch up.”

Create a syllabus for intern candidates. Yes, a syllabus. 

“A syllabus, or work plan, is so incredibly powerful with students today. When candidates see this, their eyes light up,” says Dr. Shindell. Map out what interns will do each week. Make sure that they have weekly goals, and that those goals build upon each other. Really want to impress your candidates? Dr. Shindell was impressed when he saw one employer leave blanks in their intern syllabus. They showed candidates the document and asked them to fill in the blanks. This not only gets your candidates talking and you open a window into their interests and strengths, but they feel empowered to add their own opinions.

See all 11 slides of tips for tweaking your summer internship program.

Respond to Gen Z’s questions

If your recruiting team isn’t already adjusting their talking points for Gen Z, start listening to how their needs have changed. Today’s students are planning more for their careers, they see diversity differently, and they expect to be treated as an  individual. This spring, be listening to what recruiters are hearing from students on the ground, so you know how to tweak the design of your internship program to fit Gen Z.

On diversity…

Employers must respond to Gen Z's diversity

Gen Z is the most diverse generation America has ever seen. It’s not enough to spit out talking points about your organization’s employee resource groups and unconscious bias training. Gen Z candidates demand authenticity and they may not buy what you’re pitching.  Students will ask, “Why don’t you have any women or people of color in leadership positions?” Empower recruiters to answer authentically from their heart, not their head.
As Dr. Shindell puts it, “With today’s students, you can’t tell them, you gotta show them.”
If your applicants this spring are not diverse, respond to your real-time data. Consider sending recruiters to non-traditional schools, recruit more online, focus more on student clubs, community partners, professors or advisers.

New regulations for paying interns are a trojan horse

The Department of Labor’s test to determine whether you must pay your interns changed in January 2018. The test is now more employer-friendly. If the primary beneficiary of the internship is the intern (that is, they benefit more than you), you don’t have to pay them.

Many employers will fall for this. You should not. Paying your interns just became another way to compete for entry-level talent. Compared to less impressive organizations that stop paying interns, you can stand out and show candidates that you value them. Recruiters should find out what other organizations are paying their interns, and whether your organization has an advantage in attracting talent.

Learn more about this change to regulations from our discussion with experts in TA and employment law

Pay attention to the talent left out of your process 

Dr. Shindell says, “Hiring has historically been too much of a gatekeeper. That’s an old school mentality that’s not serving the organization well.”

Recruiters should notice and communicate about candidates who have scarce skills or who demonstrate great potential, but whose interests or experience don’t fit your summer internship program. TA leaders should analyze whether it makes sense to fit that talent elsewhere.

Fortunately, more employers are breaking away from their short list of top five schools. Instead, they prioritize finding the best fit for their organization, and go where that talent is. The “traditional” students (18-22 year olds who graduate from a 4-year institution) is a shrinking market.

Related: Recruitment methods for non-traditional students

Employer branding for students and grads

When it comes to branding students and recent grads, three things are important to build a successful employer brand. (See our infographic of three key employer branding strategies to attract students and grads)

  1. You have to actually care. Today’s students and grads are cynical about marketing. Unless you are genuine about who you are, they won’t be interested. Build authenticity by focusing on the candidate experience.
  2. You must customize your message. Tailor your message to who they are individually. Identify and understand the talent you need and speak to their unique needs. Data analytics, drip marketing and programmatic advertising make mass customization easy.
  3. Focus on how they will grow their career. Young professionals will accept offers with organizations that promise them professional growth. This is one thing that students and grads desire across industries and roles.

See all 11 slides of tips for tweaking your summer internship program.

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