7 Steps to Better Internship Programs

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Jan 12, 2016
This article is part of a series called Tips & Tricks.

A few years ago we created our first internship program at OmniUpdate. As a growing software company, we always seemed to have more open positions than we could fill. Bringing in interns meant we could build a pipeline for new hires and give some valuable job experience to recent college graduates.

An internship program also aligned with our mission. Bringing students into our offices reflected a company-wide commitment to the higher ed community.

Recently, our program was honored with Ventura County’s Workforce Investment Board Youth Opportunity Award. Here are a few things that make our program successful:

Hire based on need: We don’t have a “class” of interns, with everyone starting on the same day. Interns are hired based on need in software development, web services, quality assurance, marketing, training and human resources. We work with our hiring managers to identify projects, and then bring on interns with the right skillset. Typically we have three to five interns on board at any given time.

Be in it for the long-haul: A great program isn’t build overnight. For the past three years, we’ve focused on building relationships beyond just posting internship opportunities on university job boards. Director of Human Resources Gabrielle Walker invests a considerable amount of time working with students and career services departments at three local universities.

For California State University Channel Islands, the relationship started organically with conversations with the career services department. Gabrielle would ask their staff for feedback on our job descriptions. She would reciprocate by attending career fairs, speaking on panels and meeting with faculty. She even led office tours at our headquarters to give undergraduates a better idea of what it’s like to work for a computer software company.

The legwork has paid off. Our partner at Cal State-Channel Islands, Director of Career Services Amanda Carpenter, Ed.D, said, “OmniUpdate is well known on campus, so it seeds interest. It just takes time.”

Be clear and decisive: This starts with the interview. It’s not about dragging out the process. We hire quickly. We’ll interview three to five candidates and make a decision.

At the start, the internship experience is also clearly defined and expectations set. Every applicant knows that our internships last three months, after which we’ll either part ways, extend the internship, or hire the intern for a full-time position.

Provide meaningful work: OmniUpdate internships are not about updating an executive’s calendar or getting coffee. Interns are given ownership of projects.

One current employee, Lauren Zakich, came to us as an intern responsible for helping organize our annual user conference. “I was a contact for our vendors, one of the front-line people,” she said. “They told me, ‘You’re going to make the call, negotiate this, figure this out.’ I thought, ‘Wow, they put so much trust in me. I have to prove I can handle this and more.’”

This commitment to meaningful work experience has also helped cement relationships with our college and university partners.

“A lot of employers think, ‘I want free labor,’” said Amanda. “OmniUpdate takes the time to develop pipeline opportunities. And I really wanted to invest in our relationship because they hire our grads.”

Be helpful: Throughout the recruitment and hiring process, we work to provide value to students. Our HR director offers to review students’ resumes and help them understand what companies are looking for in candidates — whether they want to work for us or somewhere else.

Once brought on board, each intern receives the same orientation and training as a full-time employee, and then is scheduled for regular check-ins with HR. “It isn’t like a seasoned professional where you can set them up at their desk and they get to work,” Gabrielle said. Supports are in place to help them succeed.

Listen: One of the biggest benefits of welcoming interns into the work process? A fresh perspective. When interns join our team, we get insight into the minds of students – one of our higher ed customers’ target audiences – and a youthful perspective that helps our product and company evolve.

Pay them: Many companies feel that since students get experience, it isn’t important to compensate them. With a paying internship, we’ve found students take the job seriously. They work hard. So we pay all interns a rate higher than the minimum wage.

This also translates into access to a deeper pool of qualified candidates. “Many of our students are low-income and the first in their family to go to college. The fact that they have a paid experience is really critical for them,” said Amanda.

Long-term value: Since 2012, we’ve employed 19 interns and six have converted to full-time employees. Amanda underscores the long-term value. “The internship program has ultimately resulted in really good outcomes for OmniUpdate. When students start as interns, they’re more likely to stay on longer with the company. It helps with retention.”

While OmniUpdate has benefitted from the contributions of enthusiastic students, we’ve also worked to create a mutually beneficial situation. Over and over we’ve heard students say, “You can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job.” Through the internship program, students get experience, references, letters of recommendations and a strong start for their career. For us, that’s a win-win.


This article is part of a series called Tips & Tricks.
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