Tips for Internship Program Success from eBay Inc.’s Head of University Programs

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Why should you hire interns and recent college grads? I hope you have a few answers that immediately come to mind, but if you don’t, you’ll definitely want to read our interview with Sarah Brubacher, Head of University Programs at eBay Inc.

Sarah shared the unique aspects of eBay Inc.’s internship and University Programs initiatives, impressive facts and figures about their success, and a few inspirational stories about interns and recent grads who are making a difference at eBay Inc.

Can you give us an overview of the University Programs department at eBay Inc.?

University Programs at eBay Inc. includes:

  • University Relations—relations with specific, targeted schools where we’ll find the talent we’re looking for.
  • University Recruiting—recruiting of undergrads, graduate students, MBAs, and PhDs.
  • University Community and Development Team—a Development team, which is focused on the orientation and training for those who are starting out in the workforce. Our goal is to source the top talent and plug them into the company from the beginning so they can have the greatest impact possible. The Community team is focused on planning activities that will create a strong community for both interns and recent college grads—a cohort of others who are going through a similar experience. We also give them exposure to our executives and our leadership teams, with an eye to getting them plugged into the business.

When we survey our interns and recent college grads, we ask them, ‘What’s the single most important thing to you in your job?’ Always, without question, it is, ‘I want to be doing meaningful, impactful work.’

When we ask them why they came to eBay Inc., they tell us, ‘It is because it was clear we would be working on real projects and solving real business problems.’ For our Internship program, we work with the hiring managers to identify a meaningful business problem that a summer intern can work on for 12 weeks—the length of our internship program.

At the end of the 12 weeks, every intern has an opportunity to present the results of his/her work. This is done in a series we call “Show[UP],” where interns showcase their projects in a big tent and employees and executives can come by and see what the interns have been doing.

Recently, I was at one of the Show[UP]s talking with an intern and one of the senior VPs of PayPal walked up and asked the intern, ‘Hey, can you tell me about your project?’ And as the intern was describing it, he responded, ‘I totally need that functionality in my group. What’s your name? Let me get your email.’

At another Show[UP] showcase, we had an intern team that had developed a neat application that caught the eye of some of our executives. The execs were so impressed with this project that they asked the intern team to stay on and present the following week at the eBay-wide innovation showcase for all employees. Experiences like these are what’s really compelling and why I’m so excited about this program. The University Programs team is all about trying to create these opportunities for our interns and look what happens! It is magic.

John Donahoe at Intern showcase

Interns’ voices are heard at eBay Inc.! CEO John Donahoe listens to an intern describe his summer project.

How many interns do you hire in a typical year?

It’s around 500 a summer. Our goal is to bring university talent in during the summer and give them the 12 weeks to work so that we can see if this person has the chops, the drive, and the cultural fit to be at eBay or PayPal long term.

We view our University Programs as our pipeline for full-time hires. We want to convert greater than our goal of 60 percent, and we do, but we want to make sure that we’re converting at quality.

The goal is to bring in A-level talent for the summer and from there, identify the top percentile that we want to keep on for full-time.

Which departments do they work in?

It’s primarily product and tech roles—development, QA, engineering, product development, a few business roles—but it’s probably 85% tech.

Can you provide an overview of some of the unique aspects of the eBay internship program?

I’ve talked a lot about the community and development focus our internship program has. What I’d like to highlight is a marquee event we put on called Power[UP] (Note: Our team is called University Programs or “UP”—so all of our events take advantage of a play on words with the word “UP.”)

Power[UP] is our annual intern conference, which takes place in San Francisco. We fly all 500 interns in for this conference, bring in our senior level executives and the people who are leading the most innovative projects, and have them present to students. This past year, the President (and soon to be CEO) of eBay, Devin Wenig, spoke to the students about his vision for the future and how to accelerate their careers. R.J. Pittman, our Chief Product Officer for eBay, came in and talked about his vision for changing the world. It was—in a word—AWESOME.

We also brought in some of our superstar recent college grads (RCGs) who have joined the company and are having (early) success at eBay. I’m thinking in particular of one woman I mentor who came to us straight out of college. She’s in our analytics leadership development program now. I bring her up because since joining eBay she has filed for 13 different patents, all based on social commerce concepts she’s had. It’s so exciting to see the innovation she’s bringing to the company and she’s only two years in.

So—in part—our intern conference is about bringing in exciting recent college grads like her who can mix and mingle and have “casual collisions” with the other recent college grads, and help them find their way.

We also invite hiring managers to Power[UP] because they will drive a lot of the success (or failure) of the internship program. As we all know, the single most important person for an intern or recent college grad is their immediate manager, so we include them in all of the community building events we do. In effect, we are building a community for them as well—which I love. In fact, we are currently in the process of developing a series of training sessions for hiring managers of RCGs to help give them the tools they need to be most successful with this new population.

John Donahoe with 2014 Interns

eBay Inc. CEO John Donahoe with 2014 interns.

What is the recruitment process like? What sort of schedule do you work on?

It is FULL ON as many involved in the University space will tell you. We have a small but mighty team that is dedicated to university relations, but we also partner with (and leverage heavily) our alumni network within eBay.

This spring, we went through a rigorous selection process of the schools that we’ll focus on this next year. We have identified rock star alums within the company to be campus captains and the University Relations team is partnering with them to identify more rock star tech talent to go with them out on campus. We know that A-level talent is attracted to work with A-level talent, so we want to ensure we have our best and our brightest out on campus.

We’re trying to build strategic relationships with these schools. We attend career fairs, but we’re also doing tech talks, giving information sessions, teaching the occasional class, and working to develop relationships with not just the career center, but with key professors and administrators.

Our goal is to develop a long-term relationship with these schools so that we get our unfair share of the A-level talent, candidly.

We have developed a dedicated student careers website for eBay. Some of the feedback we had received from students who are new to applying for jobs was they had trouble finding applicable roles, so we created a dedicated website where students can find intern and RCG-specific grouped jobs.

An example would be a “software engineering req” where we place all of the software engineering opportunities across eBay Inc. This way, a student’s résumé will be seen by the maximum number of hiring managers who are hiring for software engineer roles rather than requiring a student apply to 22 separate reqs. In short, we’ve tried to consolidate and simplify for students where possible.

One of the changes we’ve made this year is we are going to campus with 2015 job reqs already open. I think the prior model for tech companies was to open all reqs about a month before students were graduating. What we have found is that a lot of the A-level talent is ready to apply in September and October of their final year. This year, we identified the roles we would need for 2015 in Q3 of 2014 and we are on campus making full time offers for fall 2015 now.

2014 Intern sports team

Interns at eBay Inc. have the chance to build relationships (and stay fit) by participating in several sports teams.

Is this for both internships and full-time positions?

Yes. Right now we’re more focused on full-time positions, but we can make the internship offers now if we meet the right person. The roles are open.

How do you handle the conversion process from interns to full-time hires?

In many cases within eBay, the business units have developed hiring panels to decide which interns they’d like to make full-time offers to. The hiring manager makes a recommendation to the panel who have the ability to look across all the interns in their business unit for comparison to make an informed hiring decision.

Before an intern walks out the door at the end of the summer, they will have a hiring decision. Each intern should know if they have a job with the company and if we aren’t making a full-time offer, the hiring manager will speak with the intern about where the gaps where. The ideal situation is where performance discussions are happening continuously so that it’s not a surprise at the end of the internship.

What stage of their academic career are most of your interns in?

The goal of our internship program is to create a pipeline of talent and, where possible, to convert them to full-time. What we have found most successful is hiring them the summer between junior and senior year. They’re more likely to convert to full-time if they get their offer during senior year.

That is not to say we don’t have interns at earlier stages—we do—and we make offers for them to come back. But there’s a recency bias we have found, so focusing on junior to senior year meets our needs better. But we are absolutely open to hiring interns prior to junior year, too.

What should other employers know about starting an internship program?

First and foremost, you need to have executive support and sponsorship. In our case for University Programs, we had sponsorship from our CEO and the SVP of HR, both of which were critical. They have been clear to their leadership teams that this is a priority for the company. They make time for me (and my team) to come speak at their staff meetings—and they help “unblock” any issue that might be arising.

Next, I would think about developing an internship program that differentiates you from other employers. What is it that makes your company unique? I would see to create events and experiences that reflect what is special about your company.

What sort of training do you offer for the managers who supervise interns?

We are developing a program called “Multipliers”—which we will require of all managers of recent college grads to go through. The training is predicated upon the belief (and observation) that some managers empower the people who work for them, while others shut down the people who work for them. Managers who are “multipliers” actually “multiply” the effectiveness of themselves and their team. There are certain best practices that multiplying managers follow and this training is to share with managers those best practices.

The University Programs team spoke with the trainer of this program about the millennial generation—about their expectations, work styles, etc.—and asked that the trainer customize the training to focus on how to best leverage people who might be new to the workforce, people in that millennial generation.

We’re in the planning stages to build out this part of our program even more. What’s really encouraging is that when we opened up the “Multipliers” training in September, within the first day all 50 slots were taken. They had to open up a second day in October and the same thing happened. This shows huge engagement on the part of hiring managers wanting to understand how can they better harness and invest in our RCGs, so I’m super excited about that.

How are current or former interns involved in building your brand on campus?

Last year, we had an informal “ambassador program” comprised of interns who had full-time offers from us who intended to return. This year we’re launching it more formally. What we’ve done is surveyed interns with offers from our target schools and asked them if they are interested in helping us tell the eBay story. The ambassador program is comprised of the student willing to make him/herself available for office hours to interested undergrads, MBAs, and PhDs, and talk about his/her experience at the company. They’re also hooked in with the alumni campus teams, so they can coordinate with the campus captain, the university lead, and the recruiter.

We’re trying to formalize this program as the feedback we’ve received is that it’s really compelling to be able to talk to someone from their school, who’s gone through the program and hear what it’s really like.

2014 intern Save the Bay day

Interns have the opportunity to participate in corporate citizenship activities like this Save the Bay event.

How do you evaluate the success of the internship program?

We’re a very metrics-driven, data-driven company, in general. The University Programs team has specific metrics that we’re held to. We also do surveying of the hiring managers of both interns and recent grads to ask, ‘Do you believe you’re bringing in A-level talent?’ We believe it is important to track the perception and satisfaction on the part of hiring managers who are telling us that their interns or RCGs are really doing a great job.

We also track interns as they become full-time employees to see the performance scores they are receiving. The people who have been around longer and had more of the training and community building tend to have higher performance scores, which we hope speaks to the value of our program. Of course, we also look at retention.

We often get one-off stories that we try to share with our executives. This year was the first year we launched the University Programs corporate orientation program in India—a program we developed in North America that was customized for India, China, and EMEA.

There was a group of freshly-minted RCGs out of one of the ITTs who decided to participate in a hackathon at PayPal in India one week after their orientation course. They stayed up all night to learn Python, which they weren’t previously familiar with, and they won the hackathon! They actually beat the current employees.

Of course the minute I heard this, I sent a message to our CEO saying , ‘This is why we have University Programs.’ We want new college grads to be challenging the prior generation of technologists and we want them to be innovative and infect the rest of the organization with their enthusiasm. The great news is this is absolutely happening and that’s super exciting.

Is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to add about intern programs or university recruiting in general?

This is the right area to invest in. In our case, we have seen such encouraging results. I am confident we’ll continue to invest—it’s really energizing the entire company.

The next step: Sarah talks about how some former eBay interns go back to campus as brand ambassadors to share their internship experience with other students. Do you have a similar program in place? If not, how could you get your former interns involved in branding and relationship-building activities when they go back to campus?

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