3 Ways to Make the Most of Your Internship Program

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3 Ways to Make the Most of Your Internship Program

As a recent New York Times article demonstrates, the days of using interns to fetch coffee, pay them nothing and then unceremoniously dismiss them at the end of the internship without so much as a glimmer of a job prospect are far from over in many industries.

But here in Northeast Ohio, the annual ERC/NOCHE Internship & Recent Grad Pay Rates & Practices Survey demonstrates year after year that many employers are taking a very different approach to their internship programs. In order to attract the best and brightest students to their internship programs, employers need to understand what the internship landscape looks like locally, not only from a legal perspective in terms of pay, but also in terms of how much to pay and what is offered to students through the internship experience itself. Here are a few tips and trends from the ERC/NOCHE survey that organizations may want to keep in mind as they look to hire interns in 2014.

1. Recruiting & hiring the right intern

With the percentage of participating organizations either increasing or maintaining the size of their internship program from year to year seeing consistent increases over time, the demand for interns is definitely on the rise across the region. This means organizations are turning to recruitment methods that will allow them to expand their pool of applicants in order to find the right fit for their organization. Unsurprisingly, the past several years have seen strong growth in online recruitment methods for interns. Since 2011, internship postings on college or university career center websites have remained the most common source used to recruit. Among the various online methods listed, social media recruiting saw the largest increase for interns from 2012 at 22% to 2013 at 31%.

Once potential candidates have been identified, organizations tend to focus on the candidate’s major, professionalism, interpersonal/communication skills, and work experience during the hiring process. Ranking second only to major (which clearly will vary based on your industry), the level of professionalism displayed by internship candidates is a key decision maker for a strong majority of employers. While past work experience is definitely a plus, organizations may want to keep in mind that students applying for internships may have limited real world work experience. Instead, focusing on their level of professionalism and their ability to communicate during the interview, or in your interactions with them leading up to the interview can be good ways to gauge how potential interns will fair in a professional work environment.

2. To pay or not to pay, that is the question (or is it?)

Clearly, as the New York Times article referenced above illustrates, there is still a significant controversy over paid versus unpaid internships. However, employers should note that regardless of the legal implications, the 2013 ERC/NOCHE survey indicates that the vast majority of internships here in Northeast Ohio are in fact paid. In short, if you want to be competitive when recruiting & hiring interns locally, chances are, you will need to offer some form of payment.

When it comes to how much you’ll need to pay, the survey found that certain fields are seeing larger increases than others. For example, engineering interns are making more gains than their peers in the other 10 fields surveyed, but these differences are largely consistent with overall compensation trends for their respective industries on the whole. In addition, after stagnating from 2011 to 2012, the average hourly pay rate for interns across all fields of study saw an increase of about one dollar in last year, up to $13.27.  A full breakdown of intern pay rates in Northeast Ohio in 11 different fields of study can be found here.

3. Make it meaningful for everyone

Let’s assume you’ve successfully recruited and brought on an intern at your organization, so now what?

The vast majority of organizations follow very similar processes as you might expect to see for any new employee. For example, 90% of the ERC/NOCHE survey participants use an orientation within the first week of employment as a way to help interns get acclimated to their new environment and hopefully set them up for success at the organization. To ensure interns have a strong support system throughout their time at their organizations, a wide majority of respondents report providing interns with at variety of development tools ranging from regular feedback and coaching (88%) to access to a mentor (66%) to performance evaluation (63%). Whether an intern is interacting with a mentor or a supervisor, organizations indicate that these programs focus primarily on feedback and coaching for the interns. In terms of formalized training, about 56% of respondents offer this to their interns. In addition, organizations make a wide variety of less formal training opportunities available to interns as well.

If you are like most organizations from the ERC/NOCHE survey, the key here is to remember why you decided to start an internship program in the first place. Although the training and development investments noted above may add some additional costs to your internship program, keep in mind that just like with any other employee, interns should be exactly that- an investment (albeit sometimes a bit more short term than your typical employee). Time and time again the most common goals cited include “developing a talent pipeline”, “assisting with special project work”, and “obtaining affordable workforce support”. Reaching the two latter goals sounds fairly straight forward- hire an intern for a few months over the summer and hand off some administrative busy-work. However, this conventional approach to internships fails to help, and may actually hinder organizations hoping to reap the longer term benefits associated with that “developing a talent pipeline” goal. Instead of taking a passive approach to internships, developing a talent pipeline definitely requires a more actively engaged employer. Remember, even if your organization does not have a position available at the conclusion of the internship (or if the intern is not graduating quite yet), if you’ve made the investment on the front end, the intern was a good fit, and performed well, you can always keep them in mind for future opportunities in your organization.

View the Intern & Recent Graduate Pay Rates & Practices Survey

This survey reports data from Northeast Ohio employers about their internship and recent graduate employment and pay practices.

View the Results