How To Start An Internship Program

Anna Lewis, Former Senior Recruiter

Article Category: #News & Culture

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It’ll take a year.

That’s because, unlike full-time recruitment, internship recruiting is seasonal. You’re working in parallel with the academic school year: recruiting prep in the fall; evaluating applicants in the spring; coordinating the internship in the summer. If your company has never run a full-fledged internship program and you’re starting from scratch, you’ll need to see this thing through its full lifecycle in order to try some stuff, see what works, see what doesn’t, and build from there.

We’ve spent the past year doing just that here at Viget. Last week, I explained why (beyond the fact that we’re gluttons for punishment). Now, as promised, here’s a little bit about how. I’ll stick to big-picture items and cover the nitty-gritty in later posts.

Laying the Groundwork

For starters, you need to answer a few basic questions:

  • How many interns will your company bring on? For which fields or positions? Set a goal, but plan to stay flexible as the year proceeds. Last year, we started with the rather grand goal of one intern per lab (front-end dev, Rails devs, marketing, UX, and design) per office, for a total of fifteen interns. We strove for that number throughout our evaluation process, made ten offers, and wound up with seven interns. Roughly 50% of the original goal -- not bad, eh?
  • Who will interview applicants? And its correlate: who will mentor interns? Ideally, whoever mentors should also interview so that they have a say in whom they’ll spend the summer with. We took that approach, but also added a few non-interviewers to our mentor list once summer came along. Whatever your final interviewer/mentor line-up, remember: it’s not a job, it’s a vocation. Both interviewing and mentoring will require a significant output of time and energy, so you need some seriously committed folks.
  • Will there be a stipend and, if so, how much? If you can pay, then pay. For a little context on what your options are and what’s at stake, read this, this, and this. You know who your stakeholders are (and who holds the purse strings). Go make your case. Good luck and have fun!
  • What will your interns do anyway? Make sure your interns will be producing meaningful work that develops their skill set. Discuss potential projects with interviewers/mentors early so that your people have ideas in place long before the interns arrive.

Happy Vigets Hard At Work

Answered all these questions? Then roll up your shirtsleeves, Tiger, and get thee to the grindstone. 

Internship Listings

Ideally, you’d have these up all year in some way, shape, or form so that prospective applicants can check them out  and share with friends all year-round. But, since you’re just getting started, you’ll need to generate your first batch. Collaborate with team members (ideally, mentors) to make sure the language accurately reflects the experience you’ll be offering -- and highlights (brags about) the unique experience you have to offer. A few things to keep in mind:

  • What you’re looking for. Share your expectations and requirements with applicants, and make them sound compelling. Are they up for the challenge?
  • What they’ll get out of it. List the concrete skills your interns will gain as well as any and all cool perks and benefits.
  • What they should do and expect. Give clear application instructions (you’ll be shocked to your foundation at how many applicants self-eliminate by failing to follow them). Set clear expectations about any deadlines, your evaluation process, and when applicants can expect to learn their fate.

This last item can be tricky. How should you know when applicants will hear back? Which brings us to...

Commit to an application timeline.
Don’t be scared. Just commit.

Confession: last year, we evaluated applications on a rolling basis. And, while it’s one of our top recruiting priorities to keep things snappy, it was a real challenge to meet our normal standards with so many applications bearing down on us at once.  That’s a nice way of saying: we took too long.

This year, we’re setting a clear application deadline and committing to a date by which all applicants will hear back from us. I recommend you do the same.

Protip: January is when all the best applicants apply. We  know because we tracked our data. Set your application deadline for late January, commit to answers by, say, mid-March, and you should be in pretty good shape.

Pro-protip: track your own danged data. Watch how many applicants apply when, and of what quality. Then adjust next year’s timeline accordingly. Wheeee!

Now go cry it from the hills.
Or the twitters, as the case may be. Identify top sources for your top applicants and be ready to spread the word as soon as your listings go up. A few sources that worked for us (see the data here):

  • emailing professors directly
  • craigslist (it’s cheap and, much to my surprise, brought us some top applicants)
  • college job boards or career services (best for marketing applicants)
  • our own sweet selves -- leads from full-time Vigets participating in industry events or sharing their know-how on our blogs
  • InternMatch (seems to get more popular every year)

Last but not least, leverage your previous year’s interns to talk up your internship on campus. What’s that you say? You have no interns from last year?

Aye, there’s the rub! Interns beget interns. Get started, intrepid recruiter, and, this time next year, you’ll have a small army of former interns to go forth and find their successors.


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