Home / Recruiting Strategies / Talent Acquisition / Seven Internship Tactics to Grow your Talent Pipeline

Seven Internship Tactics to Grow your Talent Pipeline

Seven Internship Tactics to Grow your Talent Pipeline

By: Dona DeZube

The race is on to attract and recruit today’s interns. Companies no longer wait until senior year to head to campus and make job offers. 

These days, they’re using internships starting as early as freshman year to create a talent pipeline. It’s a shift that’s increased competition to recruit interns, especially STEM college graduates.

Here are some of the internship tactics that businesses are employing to attract young talent.  

Recruiting Interns Early On
While some companies use interns to cover work assignments for vacationing employees, or as temporary staff to handle heavy workloads, 57% of companies say the primary purpose of internship programs is to develop talent for full-time employment, according to a survey by Michigan State University’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute.

That may be why some companies now recruit interns using tactics traditionally reserved for full-time hires. 

At STEM-focused Harvey Mudd College, Claremont, California , one of Judy Fisher’s student interns was offered golden handcuff-style stock options. If she returned to the startup the following summer, or opted to stay on campus and do research instead, she would get to keep the options. However if she decided to work for a competitor, she would forfeit the options, Fisher says.

Companies are also pushing intern retention by making year-ahead offers. 

“As part of the continuing demand for software engineering talent, organizations are hiring first- and second-year students while they are on summer internships to return the next summer,” Fisher says. “The reason is an organization is afraid of students returning to campus to find many other opportunities.”

What Interns Want
If stock options are not on the internship benefits menu at your organization, you can still compete for student talent by using these seven tactics:

1. Tell them what they’ll learn.
Today’s Millennial students see internships as resume builders, so a job posting that describes the skills the intern will acquire will appeal to them.

“Students want an environment where they will be able to take away a lot of knowledge,” says Jason Parks, president of full-service digital marketing agency The Media Captain in Columbus, Ohio. He offers to come in early or on weekends to teach interns about the latest digital marketing trends. 

“This type of individualized attention lets them know I want them to contribute to our team, but I also want them to learn a lot,” he says.

2. Create significant experiences.
No one wants to fetch coffee and rolls any more, but every job includes some mundane tasks. Find ways to mix the exciting with the routine. Coming up with a short-term, a midterm and a long-term project for each intern keeps interest going all summer.

“Students may not know what they want, but they know they want a significant experience,” says Pushkala Raman, Ph.D, associate professor of marketing at Texas Woman’s  University, Denton, Texas.

Small-business owners who lack human resources expertise can reach out to local community colleges or universities for help setting up an internship program and selecting tasks for interns, says Mary Ann Gaschnig, a job developer in the career advising department at Keene State College, Keene, New Hampshire.

“There’s usually a career center and those representatives are dedicated to helping make those connections between the education community and the business community,” she says.

The internship coordinator will know which skills students most want to acquire, whether that’s database management, business development research or the all-important soft skills.

3. Put interns on teams.
College students are used to working in teams. They live in dorms and work on group projects in classes. If possible, slot interns onto teams where they work alongside more experienced employees.

At The Media Captain, the firm’s physically open workspace environment helps foster teamwork, Parks says. “Our team is relatively small with four full-time employees. When a candidate steps into our office, they can sense the team unity and that if they were to end up working for our firm, they would be part of a close-knit team atmosphere,” he says.

4. Set up social events.
Millennials are socially oriented, so pair up interns with mentors or partners. If you have them, connect them with your employees’ social or affinity groups. Not large enough to have affinity networks? Find an after-work activity everyone can enjoy, whether that’s a kickball team or entering poker tournaments.

“The smart companies have structured internship programs where they’re meeting with the interns during social activities,” Fisher says. Smaller companies can achieve the same results from a regular lunch date or night out with the intern.

5. Use interns to recruit interns.
One of the easiest ways to recruit more interns is to have existing interns recruit their friends and classmates. “If you’ve hired an intern, ask them to come back next year and to bring a friend,” Fisher says.

Send new graduate hires back to their alma maters to work career fairs. “They’ll remember the freshman and sophomores,” she adds.

6. Network to fill internships.
The age-old strategy of telling everyone you know that you’re looking for a job also works for those on the other side of the hiring desk.
“Tell everyone you know that you’re hiring,” Gaschnig says. “Whether it’s talking with colleagues at a conference or the local rotary meeting, it’s good to share that information. You never know who knows someone who might be looking for an internship.”

7. Don’t limit your majors.
Accepting internship applications only from students pursuing a limited set of majors can unnecessarily limit the applicant pool. Instead of focusing on majors, focus on the skills required to do the job. An English major with wicked good Excel skills might be a better fit than a business major who has never used the software in the business world.

Competing for interns doesn’t have to be an expensive or even time-consuming proposition. Every organization has something to offer college students. Figuring out what that is at your firm can help you devise an internship that delivers value to both the company and the intern and puts you a step ahead in the recruiting game.