Creative Ways to Keep Your Interns Working for You

2014_AC_CIS_What_MattersWhat’s the difference between university and experienced hire recruiting?

It’s more than just the age of the applicants.

The purpose of university recruiting is generally not to immediately fill a job or internship. It is to build your employment brand on campus in front of students who will apply to your company’s entry-level job or internships … eventually. It is about keeping track of the students you want to attract and then putting on your marketing hat to continue your brand engagement with them.

One way to make that happen: have an internship program and keep those interns working for you long after they return to campus.

Now when I say “working for you,” do I mean literally working for you, as in on the payroll? Maybe. If you want to go this route, you can achieve it with a student ambassador program. Hire successful former interns for a few hours a week once they are back on campus. You can ask them to do mundane things, like hand out flyers for events, or more interesting tasks, like attend career fairs and speak to other students about their experience at your company.

Or … you could get really creative and find ways to make their internship work for you long after their internship is complete.

Have Interns Keep Track of Their Work

If you have an existing internship program, you know you need to make sure students have a valid educational work experience. This is the difference between providing a real internship and just hiring summer help.

If students keep track of their progress (what they are learning and the innovative projects they are working on throughout their internship), that work can be shared through various platforms and used in your marketing/branding materials on-campus. Students are not moved by shiny handouts with pictures of your corporate lunch room, but they are moved by exciting, meaningful work that they could one day take part in.

The recent Career Insights poll we did at AfterCollege showed that an overwhelming 71.6 percent of students stated that what mattered most to them about a company when deciding where to apply was that they cared about what the company does. Thinking it was a cool company only mattered most to 9 percent of respondents.

Leverage your interns’ work and showcase it in blog posts, SlideShare presentations, and even YouTube videos to help spread the word. Use these great examples as content when marketing your employment brand to other target students.

Meet Their Faculty

Cultivating faculty relationships is a core part of any comprehensive university recruiting program. Check out John Sullivan’s article, Building Relationships with Faculty to Gain a Recruiting Edge. It’s an oldie but goodie. It describes both the importance of building faculty relationships as part of a university recruiting program and also how to navigate the terminology of academia.

Encourage your interns to make an introduction to their professors and teaching assistants. Build a relationship with those faculty. Ask if your intern can do a class presentation about the relevant work they performed. If you have this opportunity, invite their internship manager to attend the presentation as well. This will reinforce the relevance of the real world work your company is doing and give the other students in class a better idea of how they could fit in.

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Incorporate Interns in On-Campus Events

Going to dinner with friends? You check Yelp to decide which appetizer to order. Going on vacation? You check TripAdvisor to pick a hotel where no one has reported finding bed bugs. The way students consume and value information about their future employment decisions is no different.

Your former interns are your best brand ambassadors on campus. Let them know ahead of time when you’ll be visiting next. Students tend to have friends like themselves — friends in their same major, in similar student groups, and with similar priorities. If a student is presenting at your on-campus information session or popping in at your career fair booth, word will naturally spread and you will attract even more of the students that you want to see.

Provide a Positive Experience

This is by far the most important piece. Even if you do not do anything else, the most powerful thing an internship program will do for you is to inherently drop an entire group of students back on your target college and university campuses poised and ready to talk about the experience they had during their internship.

It has been well documented that “Bad is Stronger Than Good” in people’s minds. We’ve all had an experience where something went wrong in a customer service situation and we told the next five people we came into contact with. The same holds true for your interns.

Companies can quickly get a reputation on campus from previous interns. Would you rather be perceived as an amazing place where interns feel their work is meaningful, valued, and relevant to their future career? Or as a place where interns are treated like second-class citizens, do menial tasks, and don’t see the value in the time they spent with you? Develop and execute a quality internship program and let your employment brand positively spread itself across campus.

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 11.52.06 AMGive Them a Nice Backpack

This might sound silly, but I’m not kidding. There are employers already implementing this idea. What better on-campus branding can you get than an intern walking around campus every day with a killer backpack with your embroidered logo on their back? It will lead to conversations about your company, reinforce your employment brand, and just be a nice thing for you to do.

But remember, if you don’t provide interns with a positive experience, none of these other tips will matter.

Jennifer Rutt has more than 15 years experience in the corporate and university recruiting field. Prior to joining AfterCollege, she was NACElink Director and Director of Strategic Alliances for the National Association of Colleges and Employers. In her positions she has had extensive interactions with recruiting professionals as well as leaders in business, government, and education specific to university recruiting with a concentration in technology. She is often looked to for input on decision making processes affecting the future of university recruiting practices and speaks publicly as an expert on the topic.

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