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How to Hire Interns Who Can Be Full Time Employees

The economy is a virtual playground filled with young entrepreneurs and technical wizards jumping into leadership and influential positions immediately after (even during) college. To compete in this intense recruiting market, employers are cultivating talent through internships and co-op programs - which have re-emerged as one of the most effective short- and long- term recruiting tools. But with higher risk and bigger gains at stake, the investment and skills required to develop and manage internship and co-op programs have grown exponentially. While more than 50 percent of employers offer internship programs, only a handful have successfully transformed interns into employees, learning experiences into on-the-job training, and academics into production.

Casting a Wide Net: Internships as a Recruiting Tool

Internships and co-ops are among the most effective techniques for recruiting and retaining young talent. Large employers, including Georgia-Pacific, Home Depot, and Motorola, are reaching out to college and high school students. Some companies hire 75 percent of their interns for full-time positions. Innovative employers have realized that internships provide access to a large pool of potential candidates, with less competition than traditional recruiting. The employer that hires the "best and brightest" of the sophomores and juniors has created a great opportunity to impress, convince, and extend offers to highly regarded candidates. The internship application process alone creates brand recognition that can give the employer a competitive edge when it comes time to recruit. Every application received for an internship position adds to the employer's database of interested and qualified candidates that will be ready for full-time employment within 1-2 years.

Employer surveys rate previous work experience as one of the most desirable traits in college graduates. But how can a company assess student work experience? Self-reporting on resumes is unreliable, and academic curriculums vary from school to school. Internships and co-ops provide employers with the ability to evaluate hiring potential based on internal skill standards and actual performance. Furthermore, by training interns in a controlled setting, employers can provide company-specific training, increasing new hire productivity.

College campuses offer an endless supply of skilled, yet impressionable, labor. To fully realize campus benefits, a company's on-campus investment must be a long-term commitment to building relationships with students, faculty and administration. Career services offices will not recognize companies that call once a year with a part-time job description. Career centers will note committed organizations that offer internships, co-ops, and lectures. Committed companies will participate on committees, present to student groups, and sponsor campus events. Employers should consider the relationship models used by their top competitors to cultivate talent with Top 10 MBA programs, including sponsorship of students, faculty, and the program as a whole.

Finally, the cost of recruiting has inched up to over $7000 per professional employee in many industries. With a larger candidate pool and fewer legal requirements, the cost of recruiting and retaining interns is significantly less than traditional hiring. More dramatically, the cost and time involved in firing a full-time employee is much higher than the cost of simply allowing a student to complete an internship, and not offering a position.

The Changing Internship Landscape

The Internet has transformed the way in which career choices are made. Job candidates can post resumes to thousands of companies at once, and they can evaluate companies through both quantitative data and "inside" information. Vault.com and other resources have begun to eliminate the bias of self-reported job postings by providing "inside" information about companies and jobs. Inevitably, this information revolution will also transform the internship landscape. One initiative, The Atlanta Career Frontiers Project, co-sponsored by Human Services Outcomes, Inc. and the Department of Information Technology at Clayton College & State University, is performing on-site surveys to assess local internship and co-op programs based upon a defined set of quality criteria. Much like industry accreditation programs, the standards and benchmarks created by this objective information will "raise the bar" for companies and improve overall program quality.

Student and university needs are changing--Employers must constantly evaluate these needs and develop programs that bridge the gap between organizational hiring objectives, academic requirements, and student preferences. A part-time job no longer qualifies as an internship, and campus internship coordinators will challenge questionable postings. A poorly developed and falsely advertised internship program will place long-term campus recruiting relationships at risk.

Criteria of a Quality Internship or Co-op

Student needs vary by program, major, school, and personal preference, and there is no way to ensure intern retention. Companies that recognize the key components of internships and co-ops and address them in the planning stage are more likely to achieve their recruiting goals. Employers should consider the following key components when developing an internship or co-op program:
  • Invest significant time and resources into planning the internship and recruiting interns.
     
  • Provide project/job experience that suits the interns needs, but that also addresses your organizational hiring goals.
     
  • Mentors are your single most effective marketing tool. Select mentors that are committed, trained and that model the positive characteristics of your company.
     
  • Provide training that will enhance the interns' skills and prepare them for a successful transition to a full-time position.
     
  • Implement feedback and evaluation mechanisms that allow you to properly assess the performance and "fit" of interns.
     
  • Follow-up with interns, even those that are unlikely to become full-time employees. Former interns serve as an effective, inexpensive on-campus marketing tool.
     
  • Offer Perks, including social gatherings and speakers, that communicate the organization's commitment to students and enhance the student experience.