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Key Steps to Recruiting and Retaining Interns

Intern programs begin the journey for many employees. It is imperative to set the right tone and provide the right support and benefits. Read further for key insights into successful programs.

This piece was prepared prior to the global pandemic situation we are now dealing with. In such a short time, some intern programs have been put on hold or in some cases, gone virtual; however, once the mobility industry bounces back, we feel these tips will still hold relevance.

Recently, Altair Global moderated a panel discussion gathering experts to discuss “Recruiting and Retaining College Interns.” As a part of the Dallas Regional Chamber (DRC) series “Talent Attraction Talk,” the panel delivered beneficial insights and best practices related to ensuring a successful and positive intern experience.

What Interns Want from an Internship

One of the key discussion points centered around defining the persona of today’s interns. Melody Lenox, Vice President of Operations at Dallas-based Axxess, said interns today are resourceful, diverse and craving stretch assignments; however, on the flip side, they are not always adept at in-person interactions. Due to this generation being far more comfortable with digital communication versus in-person communication, Lenox defined this lack of interpersonal skills as a social barrier companies need to be keenly aware of and prepared for.

The panel also shared thoughts on how to best communicate with interns. From Lenox’s perspective, based on her experience managing interns and as a mom of two Generation Z’ers, most interns today prefer to communicate via text, FaceTime or Skype instead of email or phone. Based on that insight, everyone agreed it’s best to ask about the intern’s communication preferences early on in the process, to ensure a more customized and successful intern experience.

Additionally, all of the panelists agreed interns are in the driver’s seat when it comes to selecting an internship. Given the low unemployment rate and the ever-increasing war for talent, interns often have multiple assignments from which to choose. Candidates aren’t afraid to say “no” to an offer and expect fast hiring decisions. These observations then raise the question, how can companies differentiate themselves and attract top intern talent?

Captivating Interns with Company Culture

Jared Fitzpatrick, who leads Diversity Outreach and Talent Acquisition for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, shared the importance of emphasizing both the company culture and the value of the work the intern will get to experience. For the bank in particular, there is the added challenge of dispelling the myth that banks are stuffy and stodgy. Jared sees today’s interns seeking opportunities with companies that have a focus on inclusion and diversity, sustainability and corporate responsibility. As such, creating specialized intern projects in these areas can be a step toward distinguishing your company from the others.

Part of the bank’s intern recruitment efforts involves surveying interns before they begin their assignment. The most interesting findings showed interns wanted:

The bank incorporates a Buddy Program as part of the internship, allowing interns to engage with different leaders within the organization throughout the course of the internship. It also encourages leaders within the organization to provide pro bono consulting for colleges and universities, further promoting the organization’s culture.

Lenox further stressed the importance of getting interns out and about during their assignment. She shared examples such as hosting interns at local sporting events, engaging in activities such as paint-and-sip parties and other social experiences to help them grow both their personal and professional networks.

Intern Housing Considerations

The conversation naturally turned toward the topic of intern housing. The panelists all indicated the most common questions they get, not just from the intern, but sometimes from the intern’s parents, are around housing during the assignment. Sarah Parker, DFW Business Manager with Murphy’s Corporate Lodging, shared that her organization strives to make their intern housing communities mimic their clients’ corporate culture as much as possible. Roommate matching is also an incredibly important aspect of intern housing. Intern housing providers should do as much as they can to pair interns up with someone who shares their interests and values. Parker validated that many interns will turn to independent rental housing websites, or other avenues such as Airbnb, instead of working through the organization. To preclude interns going outside the program to non-compliant vendors, it is vitally important to connect with interns well before their assignment to ensure the appropriate, company-approved housing is secured.

Parker also confirmed that questions do often come from the intern’s parents instead of the intern; therefore, she cautioned that intern housing can be a challenge when dealing with interns younger than 21. She often encounters interns who are on an educational fast track, resulting in them entering the intern space well before their 21st birthday. Working with such young adults can result in various hurdles in regard to arranging their intern housing. Specifically, for companies who pay a housing stipend directly to the intern, there should be extra attention paid to interns who may not meet the minimum age to rent a residence in a particular state. While most landlords will rent to an underage person, landlords will also take the necessary steps to protect themselves. This is where parental consent plays a part. By requiring an underage renter to provide a parent or guardian as a co-signer, the landlord can legally hold the co-signer to the lease, if the underage renter chooses not to pay or to stay for the required time period.

Finally, the group shared thoughts on how to continue supporting an intern after the assignment is over. Everyone agreed it’s important for interns to leave the organization and be an ambassador for the organization. Interns can influence their social circles once back on campus and help the organization to market itself as an employer of choice.

Creating Effective Internship Programs

For more information on creating effective intern policies, Altair’s Global Consulting Services group offers a benchmark of intern policies.

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