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How to hire more diverse students for internships

Posted October 20, 2020 by

If you listen to politicians and the lobbyists who control their opinions, you’d believe that small businesses employ most Americans and that most of our job growth comes from small businesses. That sounds nice but, unfortunately, simply isn’t true.

Most charitably, new, small businesses (a/k/a start-ups) generate job growth but their contribution to the overall labor market is negligible. According to Scott Shane, “only one percent of people work in companies less than two years old, while 60 percent work in companies more than ten years old”.

In fact, from 2000 to 2014, the share of employment in firms with fewer than 500 employees actually fell, from 53 percent to 51 percent. Moreover, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that “since its employment low in October 2009, employment in firms with less than 50 workers grew at an annualized rate of 0.8 percent through March 2011. In comparison, employment in large firms grew at an annualized rate of 2.1 percent after reaching a low point in February 2010.” And according to the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau’s Statistics of U.S. Businesses, firms with zero to four employees accounted for only 5.2 percent of all employment. In contrast, firms with more than 500 employees accounted for 51.5 percent of all employment, most of it coming from the very largest of them: those with more than 10,000 employees. This is hardly evidence of the increased importance of small firms.

The medium- and large-sized organizations also account for the vast majority of college students hired for internships, including diverse college students hired for internships. So, when we discuss strategies for how organizations can hire more diverse students for their internship programs, we need to align those strategies with what can and will work for medium- and large-sized organizations, not start-ups and other small businesses.

InternMatch reports that only 30 percent of employers of interns feel that their interns are as diverse as the employer would like them to be. This isn’t just a problem with internship programs, because over 60 percent of interns are offered entry-level jobs upon graduation and so students who are diverse and shut out of internship programs are, therefore, also largely shut out of working for the largest employers in the country. It is also a problem for the employers, because when their interns lack diversity and it is the internship program that acts as their primary strategic hiring vehicle, then their entry-level hires will also lack diversity, middle management will lack diversity, and the executive suite will lack diversity.

Fortunately, there are some great strategies for employers who want to hire more diverse students for internships:

  1. Create objective, measurable goals for your diversity goals and then let the data help you identify your successes and failures. Attending conferences and virtual career events that primarily target diverse candidates might sound good and certainly will help you defend your organization if sued for discriminatory hiring practices, but using your attendance at events is measuring process instead of outcomes and it is outcomes that you should be after. Instead of measuring how many events you attend, measure how many diverse candidates you extend internship offers to, how many accept, how many start, how many complete, how many are offered entry-level jobs upon graduation, how many accept, how many start, and how many are still with you after two-years.
  2. Diversify your internship recruitment strategy by including more schools, job boards, and other sourcing tools. Instead of sending recruiters and hiring managers to the same schools and recruiting events as every other employer, reach the same or, better yet, other diverse students through channels that are less well-known. At College Recruiter, we see this regularly: an employer who wants to hire more black students for internship opportunities will ask us to deliver a targeted email to students at the ten best known Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). We’re often successful in reminding them that black students attend the other 90 percent of HBCUs too, and also every single one of the other 7,300+ post-secondary schools in the country. In other words, if you’re trying to recruit more black students, market your opportunities to those students. You’re hiring the students, not the schools.
  3. If your piece of the pie isn’t large enough, some will just try to steal more pie from others as if life (and recruiting) is a zero-sum game. A more effective strategy is to increase the size of the pie as you win by getting to eat more pie but so does everyone else. Instead of just trying to recruit a larger percentage of a finite pool of diverse students seeking internships, increase the size of that pool. Mentor students who are considering enrolling in the schools that offer the majors that best align with your recruiting goals.
  4. Be transparent about your policies and goals for hiring diverse students through your internship program. Many organizations claim to support diversity, but few are able and willing to show how. Share your successes and struggles clearly and prominently on your careers website.
  5. Instead of only considering students who are enrolled at schools and in the majors that you’ve traditionally found lead to success within your organization, also consider non-traditional students. Maybe they attend a coding bootcamp or one-year technical school. Maybe they’re enrolled in a Russian literature program at a community college but spend their free time building apps and would be open to a software development internship.

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