A Few Problems With Your Internship Program—And How to Fix Them

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Ah, summer. Longer hours of sunlight, outdoor barbecues, and—for those of us in the Bay Area—the re-emergence of Karl The Fog.

But for many employers, summer also generally signals the height of intern season. Whether you hire a handful of people or several hundred, internship programs give you the opportunity to bring on current students and recent grads and give them a real taste of what it’s like to work at your organization.

Before this busy internship season ends, take a moment to consider your program. What worked? What didn’t? How can you improve the experience for future interns?

To help you with this process, we asked recent college graduate and AfterCollege Editorial & Social Media Intern Shane Zackery to share some thoughts on how to create an experience that interns will love.

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As a recent college grad, my frustrations with finding the internship that was right for me are fresh in my memory. What’s more clear to me is the significant disconnect between what recent grads want from employers and what employers think we’re looking for. Here’s a short list of what I, as a member of the intern community, think that employers, despite their best intentions, are doing completely wrong.

The application process

  • Assuming that students are on LinkedIn

A recent survey conducted by AfterCollege revealed that 28% of student job-seekers use LinkedIn frequently and 26.7% did so occasionally to search for jobs. But what about the sizable number of students who aren’t on LinkedIn?

I’ve talked to more students that I can count about why they’re not on LinkedIn. They’ve said things like:

“I don’t feel experienced enough to be on LinkedIn. When I compare my profile to people who’ve been in the industry for decades, I can’t imagine why a recruiter would even bother considering me.”

“I have so few connections on LinkedIn. The ones that I do have are peers from college. There aren’t any big industry players who are in my close circle. I feel like employers will be unimpressed with me.”

“I’m not on LinkedIn. It’s so overwhelming.”

If LinkedIn is a big part of your application process, you may be missing out on a talented, but disillusioned part of your applicant pool. Create a short video or blog post about the pros of building a LinkedIn profile as a current student. This is not only for the benefit of your company, but for the good of job-seekers and employers everywhere. Provide recent grads with the tools necessary for them to successfully transition into the professional world and you’ll be a hit.

  • Putting words like “ninja” and “wizard” in the job title or description

Imagine that you are a recent college grad. You know what skills you’ve learned in the classroom, but don’t know which ones are going to appeal to employers. You start to read a job description, only to see this:

Are you a data wizard? More computer than human? Do you code like a ninja? If so, we’re looking for you!

I know that this seems like a cool way to advertise to us youngins, but remember: We are mere noobs in the job market. We don’t have years of experience that qualify us to claim any mastery of sales, analytics, marketing, or whatever else. Even though we may be perfectly qualified to be an Ace Web Designer or Star Client Support Agent, many of us are too intimidated to even bother applying.

These titles might sound “cool,” but they’ll probably just scare away plenty of qualified applicants. It’s probably better to just stick to straightforward names like “XYZ Intern” so we know exactly the type of person you have in mind for the position.

The internship itself

  • Misleading expectations/Work hours

I have a friend who is currently interning at a law firm. She was told by the company that she’d be expected to work a typical 9 to 5 schedule with some overtime sprinkled in here and there. The reality is that she works late almost every night. Some mornings, she goes in at 8am and doesn’t get home until 10pm. Every now and then she gets calls to expect to work on Sundays or until 1 in the morning.

On the days where she has a lot on her plate, she stays really late to finish her work, only to have it be completely rewritten the next morning by someone else.

Interning is a wonderful learning experience for us interns, but it is also a company’s chance to provide a positive experience. Just as much as it is our job to learn, it is your job to teach. Creating an enriching internship experience gives you the opportunity to influence how young people perceive your company and what it’s like to work there full-time.

Positive perceptions of your company are contingent upon your making sure that it is clear to your interns what is expected of them. Be consistent in these expectations and let them know immediately if their duties are changing. Let them know what it is that you’re looking for out of the finished product and how much time you expect them to put into it.

  • Making promises but not delivering

As our country moves forward in the pursuit of economic growth, true workplace diversity is going to be essential to a thriving nation.

Read this article published by the Center for American Progress to find out why.

As an intern, I look for opportunities at companies that offer the chance to work with a diverse pool of talent from all different backgrounds. It’s disappointing to arrive at your new workplace only to discover that everyone went to the same type of school or has had a typical career path.

If you as a company are not there yet in terms of office diversity, that’s okay! Take your time building your team to make sure that you’re doing it right. In the meantime, try not to promise anything that you’re not quite ready to deliver on. Have honest conversations about what workplace diversity really means to your firm and brainstorm how you can recruit talent that is a true reflection of that definition.

More generally, practice what you preach, y’all. You don’t want the selling point of your internship program to be the one thing that you can’t actually provide. It makes us feel like we’ve been misled and can put a real damper on the experience.

Post-internship

  • Forgetting about us

Not all internships turn into full-time positions. We get that. But, we still want to be a part of the family! We just spent weeks learning the ins and outs of your company. Odds are, we probably want to remain in the loop.

If you don’t have one already, create an employee newsletter or blog that exiting interns can subscribe to. Even if it’s only once a quarter or twice a year, send us some info on what’s been happening since we left. Make us feel like you valued the time we spent with you just as much as we did—keep us included!

We’re going to be your biggest cheerleaders once we arrive back on campus. One good strategy is to send us off by equipping us with the information necessary to field questions from other eager students who may be looking into pursuing opportunities with you in the future.

  • Not considering us a part of your network

Some of my favorite internship opportunities end with the company asking me if I’d be willing to speak with prospective and future interns about my experience. I’m always excited to do so.

When an intern has just been accepted, the first thing that they want to do is gather as much information as possible about their new company. Create an alum network for your interns so that they can connect with incoming talent.

The next step: Make it your personal mission to make the job hunting experience less of a guessing game. Be upfront, clear, and honest about the opportunities that you are advertising. Work towards asking recent grads what they’re looking for in a professional opportunity and respond accordingly!

Still looking for more advice on improving your internship offering? Sign up for our “Interns and Your Campus Brand” webinar on Wednesday, September 10 at 10am Pacific Time.

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