The art of hiring interns: Best practices for finding and developing top talent

The art of hiring interns: Best practices for finding and developing top talent

In today's competitive job market, internships have become an increasingly popular strategy for companies looking to cultivate the next generation of talent. Not only do internships provide students and recent graduates with valuable on-the-job experience, but they also offer employers the opportunity to recruit and train potential future hires.

However, with so many candidates to choose from, selecting the right intern can be a daunting task. That's why it's crucial to establish a well-defined internship program that attracts the best candidates and offers a positive and engaging experience. In this article, we explore the benefits of offering internship opportunities and review the most effective strategies for acquiring and developing interns.

What are the benefits of having interns?

There's a reason why some of the world's most successful companies, such as Google, Apple, and Meta, work with interns. Before we dive into some hiring strategies, it's important to understand why you should create an internship program in the first place. There are countless benefits your business can derive from providing internship opportunities.

Gain new, fresh perspectives

Interns can offer unique viewpoints and bring new ideas to the table. As outsiders to the company, they view things differently and bring fresh skills and ideas that can benefit your business. Leveraging the creativity and knowledge of interns can lead to perks such as innovative solutions to problems and new perspectives on company culture. 

Create a wider pool of qualified candidates for future roles

One of the most common complaints among recent college graduates seeking employment is the level of experience required for most entry-level positions. Often, candidates fresh off completing their degree find it difficult to land their first full-time gig without a year or two of relevant experience. 

Simply put, while a bachelor's degree remains a requirement for many entry-level roles, employers still value real-world experience over a degree. Internships can help solve this problem by providing valuable resume-building opportunities while creating a qualified candidate for your next entry-level job posting. 

Provide rewarding opportunities for current employees

Full-time employees can develop their leadership and management skills by taking on the role of mentor or supervisor. By participating in internship programs, employees can help build a positive company culture and foster a sense of community within the organization.

"Interns can offer unique viewpoints and bring new ideas to the table. As outsiders to the company, they view things differently and bring fresh skills and ideas that can benefit your business. Leveraging the creativity and knowledge of interns can lead to perks such as innovative solutions to problems and new perspectives on company culture."

Enjoy positive publicity in your community

Providing internship programs is often viewed favorably by local communities and industries. Companies that offer internships can create or expand their relationships with universities and colleges, enhancing their visibility on campuses and improving their ability to attract future job candidates. Additionally, internships offer an opportunity to give back to the community by educating and training the next generation of professionals while also raising a company's public profile.

How to best hire interns

Once you've outlined your internship program and created your positions, it's time to begin the search for suitable candidates. Here are some of the most effective tactics for filling your internship positions with the next generation of talent:

Build relationships with university staff

Getting involved with local colleges and universities is often the easiest way to meet prospective interns. Research the institution's degree programs and identify which major best aligns with your internship. Reach out to faculty members involved with the program and explain your goal of hiring interns and the impact they can have on your company. This can open the door for attending and hosting future on-campus hiring events.

Advertise in the appropriate channels

Ensure your internship listings are posted in optimal locations to reach the most compatible candidates. Leveraging the relationships you build with local colleges and universities can be useful, as it allows you to list positions on school-affiliated job boards and post on-campus advertisements. Alternatively, CareerBuilder offers a comprehensive database of job listings that can reach a wide variety of qualified candidates. The process of posting a job on CareerBuilder is up to five times faster than competitors.

Create and publicize an internship timeline

Be upfront and honest about the timing of your internship. Candidates should know when they'll start working and when their time with your company will end. While a typical internship lasts between three and six months, there's no set limit on length. Consider your company's needs and the projects interns will contribute toward when setting your timeline. Don't forget, some intern candidates may only be available during certain months, such as summer breaks.

Target applicants based on their potential

When it comes to intern hiring, the flashiest resume isn't always the best option. An internship is intended to develop a student's skills while preparing them to enter the workforce. Search for transferable skills, such as a strong work ethic developed at part-time jobs or a growth mindset and eagerness to learn. 

Tips for interviewing internship candidates

The premise of an interview for an internship is the same as any other job. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when formulating the structure of your interview:

Create personalized questions 

Use each candidate's application materials to formulate questions that are unique to them and help you determine whether they're a good fit for the role. For example, discuss their major and why they chose it, their prior experiences at part-time jobs or internships, and coursework they've completed that might help them succeed at your internship.

Ask about their future career goals

Candidates who take on internship roles are doing so in order to build their resumes for future positions. Discuss the applicant's short- and long-term career goals and gain an understanding of their plans for entering the workforce. While it's understandable for students to not have an exact path mapped out, they should at least be able to provide their plan for determining their long-term career goals.

Target candidates who have done their research

As with any job interview, you should be looking for candidates who have read up on your company before interviewing. Even for an internship, a lack of a basic understanding of your business should be seen as a red flag.

Determine what they hope to gain from the experience

Internships are all about development. You don't need to hire the most skilled candidate on paper. Ask interviewees about the skills they bring to the table and the areas they hope you can help them develop.

How can you create a rewarding experience for interns?

So, you've completed the interview process and selected the best candidates for your intern roles. What now? You should take several steps to create a mutually beneficial and rewarding experience for your company and its interns:

  • Communicate regularly
  • Provide consistent, effective feedback
  • Assign tasks that cater to their strengths while developing their weaker skill sets
  • Designate an intern program coordinator within your company
  • Help establish goals that can be tracked throughout the internship
  • Let interns handle select meaningful projects or tasks on their own
  • Encourage interns to share their ideas and perspectives

On the flip side, there are several things you'll want to avoid when bringing on an intern:

  • Giving interns too big of a workload or a task they aren't equipped to handle
  • Assigning "busy work" rather than meaningful projects
  • Bringing on too many or too few interns based on the work you have available
  • Neglecting interns or limiting the volume of feedback you provide them
  • Offering unpaid internships 

Internship programs offer worthwhile benefits to companies and students, making them valuable investments for any organization. A well-executed internship program not only helps companies find and train future talent but also provides interns with the skills and experience necessary to excel in their future careers. If you don't have an effective internship program at your company, take the next step toward developing a pipeline of skilled professionals. By investing in interns, you can contribute to your company's success while giving students valuable opportunities to grow and develop.

Related reading: More tips for hiring managers

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