With summer just around the corner, many employers are going through the process of hiring one or more summer interns into their organization right now. But why go through all the effort of hiring, training and supervising a short term, inexperienced employee who will probably have to leave your organization to go back to school come fall?
As it turns out there are plenty of reasons why. Here are the top five reasons cited by employers:
#5: Test potential employees before hiring them
As one employer noted, hiring interns instead of entry level full-time hires gives the employer, “[the] ability to see capabilities and evaluate skills for potential full-time hire.” While not every internship position is created with a full-time job in mind down the road, for those employers that are looking to hire in new entry-level talent, an internship is a great way to “try before you buy.”
Working with the same intern year after year can give an employer even more insight into whether or not the individual would be a good fit at the organization. So although some employers prefer to hire students only after their junior or senior year of college, others see this opportunity for longevity as an advantage and are expanding the years from which they are hiring interns.
“We would like interns to return several times,” explained one employer. Not only does re-hiring an intern several times over the course of their college career help employers get a better gauge of their capabilities as a potential employee, but the continuity cuts down on the resources required to get the intern up-to-speed and ultimately allows them to be more effective and helpful each time they return to the employer.
#4: Increase exposure at local colleges and universities
The recruitment process for interns can be a valuable opportunity for employers to reach out to local colleges and universities and create valuable relationships for all parties involved. The level of collaboration varies with some employers choosing to simply post jobs to a college’s career center website and others reaching out directly to faculty in specific departments to help recruit students with a skill set specific to their industry.
Still others increase their exposure on college campuses by participating in career fairs. One employer described their experience working with higher education institutions here in Northeast Ohio to recruit interns as a way to, “generate great partnerships between universities, businesses and young leaders in our region.”
#3: Obtain affordable workforce support
This reasoning embodies internships in the most traditional sense, but it continues to ring true to many employers. Interns can provide valuable support to existing employees and freeing those employees up to work on higher level tasks.
Traditionally interns have filled a more administrative support type of role, but in recent years employers have begun to capitalize more on the knowledge base that these students bring with them. Specifically one employer viewed interns as, “affordable quality talent” and leveraged them as such.
Although they may not have much practical experience in the workforce, many employers have found that the students they have hired as interns bring with them a fresh, up-to-date academic background that when paired with the right industry can be valuable to both the employer and the intern.
“Affordable” support is another term that is experiencing some transition thanks to several lawsuits over the past year regarding unpaid interns. Whether or not an internship should be paid or unpaid has always been a controversial topic, but in light of recent rulings in favor of paying interns, employers need to keep in mind more than ever that “affordable” does not equate to free (in most cases, but there are exceptions). Regardless of the legal obligation, if you are looking to attract and retain the best and brightest interns to your internship program, it is still considered a best practice pay competitively just as it would be for any other position at your organization.
#2: Assist with special project work
Every organization has certain projects that they would love to tackle, but just can’t seem to find the time to do with their existing workforce. Interns can be a perfect way to help jumpstart these projects. Not only can they provide the workforce support described above, but interns are also uniquely positioned to bring these projects to completion.
Unlike your typical employee who has competing projects, various other obligations, interns can be placed on just a couple of special projects and work almost exclusively on them over the course of their internship. Of course, ideally these projects would be coupled with opportunities for additional training, mentorship and other learning focused opportunities, but at least they aren’t going to be bogged down with the day-to-day distractions of too many emails and committee meetings.
#1: Develop a talent pipeline
Over the past years the annual ERC/NOCHE survey has found that “developing a talent pipeline” is consistently the number one reason cited by employers for hiring interns. Although for some organizations the benefit of this “pipeline” overlaps significantly with the “try before you buy” concept, there are distinctions that can be drawn between them.
The key difference is illustrated in the following description provided by one respondent to the 2014 survey. “Internships,” they wrote, “help us fill the pipeline for entry level staff and also make the process easier, we don't need to retrain and we know they are already a fit for our organization.” For this particular organization, as well as for many others, interns receive training and development opportunities much like any other employee would at their organization. Although this requires some upfront investment, the hope is that the intern will transition more easily into a full-time position and hit the ground running effectively and efficiently.
In addition, the intern turned employee costs less to recruit, has already been trained (presumably at a lower salary than they would be hired in at as an entry level employee), and both intern and employer know that this is a good fit for the organization. Particularly as employers and employees alike place more emphasis on “cultural fit”, grooming interns for future employment can also help reduce turnover.
Ultimately, whether your organization is looking for a little extra help on some summer projects or making long terms plans on how to build a strong base for future leadership, interns can be a low-risk and low-cost option to help reach those goals.
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.