Last week, I wrote a blog about the value of internships for interns. This week, I’m following up with the other side of the coin. Internships are likewise incredibly valuable for organizations. Companies, nonprofits, and even the government regularly invest in robust intern programs. They also tend to hire candidates who have internship experience, as this data shows. That means companies recognize how important internships are to developing future talent. In this blog, I’ll share some strategies for organizations to build successful, equitable, and flexible internship programs.
Why Organizations Benefit from Internships
As this article from Forbes describes, interns bring new perspectives and insight into any organization. This Entrepreneur article agrees that creativity booms with the introduction of interns to the workplace. As I wrote in this earlier post, creativity is a major ingredient for productivity. One of the reasons why interns increase the generation of new ideas is because of the diversifying pool of candidates. As more diverse individuals enter higher education, internship candidates represent a wider variety of experiences and perspectives.
Internships also provide a “talent pipeline.” Both of the above articles note that internships help organizations find and “interview” fresh talent. The interns of today are likely to become the workforce of tomorrow. In the blink of an eye, they’ll be leaders and executives of the next generation. Especially in a remote landscape, spaces like job fairs are limited. That means internship programs are a great way for organizations to get introduced to upcoming graduates.
Finally, interns can provide concrete benefits to organizations, as this article explains. For instance, today’s interns are largely well-versed in social media. They can more easily boost social media strategy for your company than many seasoned marketing professionals. They can also engage in other projects, like data analysis, to help the organization reduce costs and boost revenue. In other words, interns carry a lot of value!
How to Create Successful Programs
To attract the best talent, you’ll want to build the best program. This Forbes article and this article from Entrepreneur magazine have some advice for how to structure successful internship offerings. First, plan in advance by soliciting feedback from current candidates about how they’d like their internships to look. Next, interview candidates with an eye for the curious. Choose interns who ask good questions. You can also incorporate real-world problems into interviews in order to assess candidates’ problem-solving skills.
Once you’ve chosen your interns and gotten them in the door, support them towards success! For instance, provide mentorship opportunities for all incoming interns. On a practical level, make sure they have any log-ins they may need and access to company tools like Pyrus. Encourage interns’ self-efficacy by setting high standards and helping them achieve their goals. At the same time, make feedback a two-way street. They’ll want to hear from you about how they’re doing. Be sure you’re asking them about how their internships are measuring up to expectations as well. Lastly, give interns the opportunity to present their work at the conclusion of their time with the organization. This can be a particularly meaningful experience for incoming members of the workforce.
Just one more idea: don’t think you have to focus solely on recruiting from colleges! First Workings sees great results from high school students’ internship experiences. They match high-achieving students from underrepresented communities in New York City with paid opportunities. Your organization might consider partnering with First Workings to get access to this bright, young talent.
The Great Debate: Unpaid Internships
On the subject of underrepresented communities, I have to acknowledge the major controversy about unpaid internships. In recent years, many organizations and individuals have pointed out that unpaid internships are not equally accessible to everyone. In other words, not all people have an equal chance to do work for free. As a result, this research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) shows a gap. Internships primarily go to white and male candidates.
This recent CNBC article outlines the history of unpaid internships. This kind of opportunity grew popular in the 1970s, when women and people of color began to enter higher education in greater numbers. Those with connections and an economic advantage wanted to set themselves apart. They achieved this by gaining experience through unpaid internships. Even though labor laws govern what kinds of internships have to be paid, they’re not perfect. They exempt government positions and nonprofit roles. And they perpetuate inequities.
Pay Your Interns was founded to advocate for paid internships to increase equitable access to employment opportunities. This HBR article explains this argument thoroughly. It notes that Black and Latino students, along with women and first generation students, are underrepresented in paid internships. That’s especially important to know because of a novel finding. Job candidates with unpaid internship experience don’t get more offers than those without any internship experience at all. That’s a problem in a world suffering from inequities like the ones I described in my blog series entitled Working for Home.
One way to increase access for internships to diverse candidates is to embrace the world of remote work! For instance, Parker Dewey has introduced the concept of micro-internships. Students can easily complete these remotely. Micro-internships are paid, short-term projects that provide high value for organizations. They’re also attractive to interns. They provide a glimpse of an industry or company that might interest students, without a full summer’s commitment.
Even summer internships can successfully go remote, though. Sandra Rivera, former Chief People Officer and a current Executive VP at Intel, wrote this article with best practices for creating a remote internship experience. She encourages companies to designate cohorts of interns and increase their opportunities for collaboration. That can look like a buddy system for interns, speed networking events, or opportunities to meet employees for “coffee and coaching.” Keep in mind that remote interns can’t learn by observation. That’s why it’s critical to provide great training and orientation resources. For instance, be explicit about best practices for virtual communication and virtual meeting etiquette.
Most importantly, know that there are tools available to help remote interns connect with the rest of an organization. Pyrus is one such communication, collaboration, and task management platform. With this software, interns will be able to stay connected to what’s happening in their teams and organizations. You can even easily add them into automated workflows. At the same time, mentors and supervisors can keep tabs on their interns’ progress with projects. If you’re looking to make your remote internship experience simpler and more enjoyable for all stakeholders, check out Pyrus. I hope these resources help your organization take its internship program to the next level!