How To Prep Interns for a Full-Time Role at Your Organization

June 28, 2016 at 9:00 AM William Clarke

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Internship programs are one of the most cost-effective ways to find and hire new full-time employees. They give you the opportunity to engage, train, and get to know potential hires on a far deeper level than other hiring processes.

Yet it’s a common misnomer interns always get full-time job offers. In reality, around 52 percent of interns get full-time job offers. Compared to most other hiring funnels, a 50 percent intern to hire conversion rate is pretty darn good, especially compared to the uncertainty of other candidate streams. 

Here’s how to successfully turn your interns into hires.

Hire Smart

Hiring interns whose skillsets or interests don’t actually match your organization’s goals is a mistake because they may not truly be interested in what makes the job such a compelling opportunity. Bringing them in for an internship could be a waste of their time and yours. Similar to how you hire full-time employees, you’re looking for motivated interns enthusiastic about the problems you’re trying to solve. Leadership experience, a capacity for creative thinking, and a credible work ethic are priceless characteristics, but also look for people who bring something new to the mix. Interns need not be younger clones of your existing employees. Consider what new problems are on the horizon and what kind of people might be especially suited to solve them.

You already have a system for hiring full-time employees, so use that as a model for hiring interns. The process doesn’t need to be as extensive as it would be for a full-time hire, but it should give you a good idea of their professional interests, motivations and enthusiasm - enough to ensure they’re the right fit. This way you’re setting your interns up for success in an environment where their time and efforts will most effective and worthwhile.

Always Onboard

Effective onboarding educates new hires about the organization, familiarizes them with expectations, best practices, and other important elements and characteristics that help them navigate the choppy waters of a new position. Your onboarding can include meet and greets between interns with HR and senior management. This allows them to hear about organization goals, initiatives, cultural elements and other important aspects that give useful background for people who may not know that much about your industry or the current competitive landscape.

Helping your interns figure out how they fit into the big picture and why it’s important generates buy-in, trust and alignment of goals, all of which increases the odds that they’ll succeed as interns and become full-time hires down the road.

Start Small

When you’re helping an intern get started, begin with relatively basic tasks that give them an opportunity to gradually flex their mental muscles. Depending on their responsibilities and skills, these tasks can take the form of a research project, competitive analysis, writing assignment or even a coding challenge. The idea is to take stock of their attention to detail, ability to knuckle down, and creative talents. In this case a deadline is an absolute must. Most jobs require timeliness, and the importance of deadlines is a fundamental lesson all interns need to learn as early as possible.  

The upshot is that you’ll learn a lot about their existing skills, abilities and limitations. That allows you to shape their internship in a way that benefits them and helps them grow. It’s also important to keep things relatively low pressure in the beginning. This allows them to build up confidence and stretch themselves gradually before moving onto more complex and difficult tasks.

Focus on Soft Skills

People talk about how hard it is to find technical talent, but it’s soft skills that are fundamental to success in the modern workplace. The ability to communicate clearly and accurately, creatively problem solve, and be part of a functional team are, quite simply, non-negotiable skills. These aren’t skills every college or graduate student will necessarily learn in classes, which means it’s often up to employers to tease them out.

One of the most effective ways to prepare interns for full-time positions is to help train them. Whether you have a class of 20 interns of just one or two, organizing workshops focused on core soft skills with your most experienced employees is an excellent method to ready them for more responsibility and introduce them to your company culture. Even better, it allows you to create a rubric by which you can train all of your employees and standardize expectations for how they communicate, collaborate, and generally carry on with the daily business of your organization.

Set Up a Mentorship Program

Getting the hang of a new company is always complicated, especially when it might be your first time venturing beyond the classroom. Disengaged interns divorced from the actual day to day of your organization aren’t doing anyone any good. They’re not learning, and your company is scarcely benefiting from their presence. A intern mentorship program is an excellent way to ensure they don’t get lost. It gives interns someone to go to when they have questions or challenges, and also gives your mentors a shot at management training in a non-competitive environment with an eager to learn subject, a boon for both parties. That’s why 71 percent of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs. It simultaneously cultivates leadership development and professional development across multiple staff levels – a crucial aspect of employee retention.

Mentorship programs also foster an environment of cooperation, collaboration and openness between junior and senior hires. By making it clear to every hire that your organization relies on teamwork and not relentless competition, you’re instilling the values that drive success from top to bottom. Intern mentoring programs means you’ll be setting them up to embody and live the organization values from the get-go. It also means they’ll be learning directly from your most successful employees.

Utilize Feedback Loops

Strong feedback loops are a proven method for higher employee retention and stronger performance – they are a great way to make sure your internship program is running at full blast. The key is to involve every stakeholder, including your interns, mentors, and program managers in regular, scheduled sitdowns. The exact form and cadence will vary depending on how many interns you have, how closely you’re working with them, and the differing needs of the organization, but informal, regular chats are the perfect way to keep on top of things. They give you the opportunity to ask questions, deliver constructive feedback and see how things are progressing from an intern’s perspective, while giving you valuable intel into how the program can be improved or tweaked to maximize value for interns and your organization alike.

If regular in-person chats aren’t possible, consider setting up a forum via Tinypulse or a dedicated intern Slack channel for questions and feedback. This allows you to address any issues, improve communication when necessary, and make course corrections to optimize how much they’re learning, how their workflows are operating, and how much they are benefitting so far.

At the end of the day, you want internships to be as fruitful for them as they are for you. Giving interns a forum to ask you for advice, acknowledge challenges, and in general, communicate with you and one another is a priceless avenue to build camaraderie, avoid confusion, and make them feel like they are genuine and important parts of the organization. Even if they wind up taking a position elsewhere, your interns will always look back on their time with you fondly, which means they’ll likely be more keen on sharing their great experience with their network – your connections to future intern talent.

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