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Internships Programs and Co-ops that Boost Employer Brand

Internships Programs and Co-ops that Boost Employer Brand

By: Roberta Matuson

More and more companies are participating in cooperative education (co-op) and internship programs to seed their talent pipeline. The hope is that students, with some nurturing, will grow into tomorrow’s full-time employees. 

With this in mind, here are some tips to ensure that your organization's co-op and intern programs contribute positively to your company brand.

Provide co-op and interns with a meaningful experience. “When a student has a great experience with their co-op employer, you’d be hard pressed to find a more powerful evangelist!” says Chad Barker, Communications and Marketing Specialist for the Office of Professional Practice at Purdue University

Employers are taking note of this brandful workforce, creating co-op and internship experiences that align with their employer brand. Fueled by input from co-op students and interns, these programs are evolving into a more enriching experience for internship and co-op program participants. 

“Our internship program is designed to provide undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to experience what it’s like to work in professional services by giving them roles similar to those of a full-time campus hire,” notes Scott McQuillan, who is a senior manager and tax recruiting leader at Deloitte. 

“Not giving interns an experience that gives them an idea of what it’s like to work at the company full-time can damage the overall brand.”

Leveraging social media to build your employment brand. Before social media, many organizations would reprimand employees who weren’t in PR for publicly sharing their thoughts.

Since then, companies have quickly come to realize that workers are freely sharing all aspects of their lives through social media channels. In fact, social platforms like Yelp actually encourage interns to post about their intern experience. Michael Stoppelman, Senior Vice President of Engineering for Yelp, notes that interns are sharing their experience and projects on the Yelp engineering blog

Give interns the means to share. Deloitte takes their internship engagement a step further. They’ve created a social media platform that interns use during their conferences at Deloitte University. Interns can post about their experiences on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Some colleges have internal boards where students are posting reviews of their co-op experience for the benefit of other students. Positive reviews will result in a stronger employment brand

Of course the opposite can happen. Less than favorable reviews may be damaging. Check in with your college co-op or intern representative to see how your employment brand is faring among their college students. Monitor the situation and make adjustments accordingly.

Keep your efforts brand positive. Companies would be well advised to monitor their social media channels to ensure that their internship and co-op programs are impacting their brands positively. 

“Companies are beginning to understand that co-ops and interns are talking about their experience,” says Barker. “They understand that when students have a negative experience, they are sharing it with others.” This has prompted some companies to re-examine the experience they are providing to co-op students and interns. By doing so, they are able to improve the experience all around. 

Encourage co-op students and interns to socialize in person. In this social media age, it’s easy to overlook the value of socializing. In fact, for many college students, the face-to-face social interactions of co-op and internship programs are just as important as the actual work itself. 

Interns who attend conferences at Deloitte University have plenty of time for socializing and meeting other interns and Deloitte employees from across the country.

Keri Vadala, Manager of College Relations at Kronos Incorporated, stresses the importance of networking and social giving. “We provide our interns and co-op students with opportunities to network, give back to the community and attend social events so they can get to know one another. They are encouraged to attend all social events that are open to full-time employees.” 

The goal is to treat intern and co-op students as if they were already full-time employees.

Keep them engaged all year long. Companies are recognizing the value of staying connected with co-op students and internship participants throughout the school year. 

“The philosophy around our programs is to create a future talent pipeline,” states Vadala. She adds that Kronos keeps these students involved in the company as much as possible.

Purdue University students typically co-op with the same employer throughout their three or five co-op sessions. This allows students to take on more responsibility as they move through the co-op experience. It also provides companies with an opportunity to continue to engage the students they are investing in.

Stay in touch with former intern and co-op students. “During campus visits for recruiting trips, we lean on previous interns for brand building,” says Yelp’s Stoppelman.

“We encourage them to host informal events where recruiters aren’t present and they can have even more direct conversation about their time at Yelp. We call these folks Intern Emissaries.” 

When interns are on campus, Yelp also hosts intern alumni dinners. “Whether they’re returning to Yelp or pursuing other opportunities, this helps us stay connected and keeps Yelp on their radar screens.”

While you may not be successful in converting every co-op student or intern into a full-time hire, you may be able to tap into his or her network of like-minded friends. Do so by asking for referrals and introductions. Remember to remain available to help former co-op and interns as they navigate through their careers. 

At a minimum, most of your interns and co-op students will be thankful for your efforts. Some may even decide they are ready to return to your organization, especially after they have a taste of what it is like to work elsewhere.