10 Best Practices for Recruiting and Retaining Interns

By Sarah Ballow, iHire
Manager excitedly introducing a new intern to his team

Hiring an intern is a great way to build an employment pipeline and bring fresh insights to your company. But it’s no small thing – developing a successful internship program and finding an intern that adds value to your team requires significant time and effort. To maximize the internship experience, for your company and your intern, implement these best practices for recruiting and retaining interns.

 

Woman writing on whiteboard while discussing with colleagues
 

PREPARE

Like any hiring pursuit, we recommend you begin with a well-defined plan. The following tips will help to ensure your recruiting experience goes smoothly and will serve as a foundation for developing a successful internship program.
 
1.  Establish a clear goal.

Why are you hiring an intern? You may have lofty goals, but they can’t always be realized when company resources and objectives come into play. Work with your team and senior leadership to determine a realistic goal for hiring an intern onto the team. With a clear understanding of what the internship will entail and where it will (or won’t) lead, you’ll be able to set expectations with candidates.

2.  Gather full information.

For most students, choosing an internship is one of the first career decisions they’ll make, and they want to make sure they’re making the right move. Develop and document these critical details before you attempt to find an intern:

  • Job description – Students want to know what their responsibilities will be and the projects they’ll be contributing to. Not only will this provide transparency for the candidates, but it will also help you determine the appropriate education level (undergraduate or graduate) and schedule (part-time or full-time) for your internship.
  • Compensation – Conduct a compensation analysis for internships within your industry. This can be as simple as hunting around job boards and company sites to determine the average industry rate. There’s nothing worse than finding an intern candidate that you really want and losing them to a more competitive wage – so do your research!
  • Schedule – Determine a schedule (i.e. length of internship, hours per week, specific days of the week), and include it in the job description and application. This will help weed out students that can’t meet the schedule requirements before you get to the interview.
  • Post-internship – Candidates will want to know if the internship could lead to a full-time offer or other opportunities down the line. If you follow our advice and establish a goal with your leadership team, you’ll be prepared to provide an answer.

 
Intern Shakes Hand with Prospective Employer
 

RECRUIT

Now that you have a plan, you can begin to search the candidate pool. These best practices for recruiting interns will help you to improve your recruiting process and get you closer to finding an intern that’s right for you.

3.  Recruit early.

It’s simple: the early bird gets the worm. Students, especially at the graduate level, can have offers over six months in advance. So, if you’re interested in hiring those A-player students, you’re best off recruiting two seasons prior to the start of your internship (i.e. if you’re hiring an intern for the summer, recruit during the fall semester). This will also give you more time to plan and develop a successful internship program that will suit your intern’s skillset and goals.

4.  Get personal.

If you are close to a school (or have the resources to travel), recruit on campus to establish personal connections and get a better feel for candidates you meet. Most schools offer plenty of recruiting opportunities (e.g. career fairs, on-campus interviews, resume critiques) for companies hiring an intern. However, if you’re feeling creative, ask the employer relations team if you can host an event of your own, like a hackathon or diversity and inclusion seminar, to set your company apart.

To narrow your candidate pool and find an intern with targeted skills, seek out industry-specific job boards to advertise your internships and attend industry- or major-specific career fairs or events. You may also consider reaching out to relevant student organizations or interest groups to personally invite them to visit you on campus or apply to your internship.

5.  Use behavioral interview questions.

Behavioral interview questions (e.g. “Tell me about a time when…”) prompt candidates to describe specific scenarios they’ve encountered and how they’ve handled them. This style of interviewing allows you to target specific capabilities, like customer service or teamwork, and provides insight into candidates’ problem-solving skills. It also creates an opportunity to explore beyond the resume and dig into some real experiences.

6.  Communicate frequently.

Frequent communication is a key factor in creating a positive candidate experience. Inform candidates of your process and timeline at first point of contact so that they know what to expect throughout the recruitment process. Also, provide timely updates after each step – let candidates know what’s coming next and when they can expect to hear from you. And of course, once you’ve determined a candidate won’t be moving forward, let them know promptly – better to deliver the bad news than to string them along or leave them in the dark

 

Intern laughing with colleague in meeting

RETAIN

Finding an intern that’s right for you is half the battle – but the work’s not over. Even if you don’t plan on pipelining your intern to a full-time role, you’ll still benefit from developing a successful internship program. These best practices for retaining interns will help you and your intern get the most out of the internship experience and keep the door open for potential opportunities down the road.

7.  Learn about their goals.

Schedule a meeting with your intern to discuss their goals for the internship and beyond. During their internship, try to create small opportunities related to their goal, like giving them a relevant project or connecting them with someone who has experience in a field of interest. Investing even a small amount of effort could make a huge difference in your intern’s experience. Not only does it create a more personalized learning opportunity, but it will also make them feel like you’re invested in their future and committed to helping them grow.

8.  Give them meaningful work.

Gone are the days where interns exist to file paperwork and enter data. If you want to retain your intern (and get more bang for your buck), trust that they can handle larger, more impactful projects. The result: Your intern feels valued and empowered to achieve, and you have a strong work product and more skilled associate.

9.  Get the whole team involved.

Integrate your intern into the team. Schedule meet-and-greets with team members and find ways for your intern to work with others – the more you treat your intern as a regular hire, the more engaged they will be. They’ll also have a greater opportunity to learn, a larger support system (this is key if their supervisor is in meetings all day), and a better sense of what it would be like if they worked at the company full-time.

10.  Keep them warm post-internship.

Even though the internship has ended, the relationship you’ve established with your intern doesn’t have to (especially if you’re grooming them for future employment). There are several ways you can maintain a relationship with a great former intern:

  • Give them remote or project work to do.
  • Engage with them via LinkedIn or email.
  • Take them to dinner if you’re attending an event on their campus.
  • Keep them abreast of any applicable job openings at your company.

These simple touchpoints will keep the lines of communication open so that you can nurture and retain more intern talent.

By implementing these best practices for recruiting and retaining interns, you’ll be well on your way to finding an intern that’s right for you and developing a successful internship program. For more information on hiring an intern, check out Tips and Tricks for Finding the Right Intern for Your Company.