Global HR

How to Make Internships Part of Your People Strategy

July 26, 2022
November 7, 2023
Rosanna Campbell
Lattice Team

Computer science student Najaah Chambliss already had a summer internship lined up at a defence contractor, when Microsoft came calling with a better offer.

“It was definitely a no-brainer,” she said, speaking to the Wall Street Journal, adding that the tech giant’s offer was more lucrative and would look better on her CV. 

Chambliss’ move indicates a rising new trend in recruitment. The Great Rejection is here — and companies are now in the unprecedented position of competing to recruit interns, not to mention keeping them.

In fact, 35% of candidates were willing to renege on an internship offer in 2022 (up 10% from 2021), according to research by recruiter analysts Veris Insights. So, why should you bother trying to attract interns, if there’s a good chance you’ll lose them if a better offer comes along? 

Internship programmes can — and should — be a meaningful part of your People strategy. Interns do much more than busy work: Their contributions, development, and feedback can help enrich the organisational culture and increase innovation. 

Read on to discover how to create an internship programme that is irresistible to up-and-coming talent, and delivers maximum value to your organisation.

Internships vs Apprenticeships: What’s the Difference?

Some People professionals fall into the trap of using the terms internship and apprenticeship interchangeably. However, while there are some geographic variations in the way the two terms are used, they actually describe two separate employment arrangements. Here are a few key differences:

Duration Short-term, a few weeks or months Long-term, one to four years
Intention Provide real-world work experience and skills development with an employer Prepare an apprentice for a specific job through training, coursework, and an official qualification
Compensation Paid or unpaid (although best practice is to compensate interns fairly) Always paid, ranging from minimum wage to a salary of up to £15,000
Employment May turn into a full-time offer, but it is not generally expected Likely to turn into a full-time position

The Value of Including Interns in People Management Strategies

Internships can have an outsized positive impact on your company culture. With the right internship programme in place, this year’s interns could be opening new doors for your business for decades to come. 

Here are just a few of the key benefits of internship programs for companies: 

1. Improve diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The benefits of a more diverse workforce are well-reported. For example, a 2020 report by McKinsey found that firms with greater ethnic diversity enjoy a performance advantage of 36%. However, a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research in the U.S. found that Black college graduates aged 22 to 27 were twice as likely to be unemployed, showing that racial discrimination clearly remains a major problem in the labour market. Internships are an ideal opportunity to attract young talent from diverse backgrounds into your organisation. 

Moreover, the diversity of your organisation could well be one of the factors prospective interns use to weigh up your offer. A 2022 study by the Bright Network found that 89% of students consider an employer’s commitment to diversity and inclusion before applying.

2. Build a long-term pipeline of top talent. 

A strong internship strategy can attract, train, and test new talent for recruiting purposes.

Mirella Armington Cortez, technical recruiter at Fearless, a full stack digital services firm, says internship programmes should always be a part of a company’s People strategy.

“The Fearless internship program enables us to build a long-term and sustainable talent pipeline,” she said.

Internships are “a tremendous recruiting marketing tool,” agrees Dannie Lynn Fountain, senior sourcer at Google.

“This becomes even more powerful if interns can "return" year after year— nearly 90% of eligible returning interns received an offer of a full-time job, and nearly 90% of those accepted,” she said.

3. Create a network of passionate brand advocates.

Even if you don’t hire your interns after they complete their internship, if they have a great experience with your firm, they are likely to remain loyal to your brand. They may well recommend your products to their future employers, or advise job-seeking friends to consider a role at your company. 

Beginning in the onboarding phase, interns should be made to feel connected to and engaged with the company's mission and purpose. By the end of their internship, managers should take time to measure and evaluate interns' experience through exit interviews and surveys to gain a deeper understanding of their attitudes and ideas about the company.

4. Strengthen your employee experience by offering mentoring opportunities.

Internship programmes are a natural way of connecting your company to the surrounding community. Cortez from Fearless calls this “bridging gaps”.

“It’s amazing to see the natural excitement that internal team members feel when hearing that we are giving back to the community,” she said. 

Cortez recommends formally factoring in employee opportunities to contribute because, while employees may be enthusiastic, they might not know how to get involved in a mentorship.

“A structured programme built around a consistent curriculum, where employees have a specific moment to step in and engage, is often the opportunity employees are looking for.”

5. Introduce new ideas and a fresh perspective to product development.

As digital natives, today's interns are often the target consumer for many firms, and offer an invaluable source of advice and inspiration. They can be one part of a robust skills-based hiring strategy.

Fountain is enthusiastic about the fresh perspectives interns can bring to the table: “How exciting is it to get to work daily with one of your customers?! Intern-aged individuals are exposed to and adopt technology at a much faster pace than those already in the workforce.”

Organisations can tap into this knowledge and experience to help them better reach their customer base and create a strong product roadmap for the future. Interns can even leverage leadership opportunities by teaching other employees about digital skills to help with adoption of new technologies in the workplace.

6. Future-proof your employee experience.

Your experience with recruiting, onboarding, and developing interns puts you in a prime position to understand the needs of the next generation of new hires. Your interns may be the best people to advise you on the priorities and interests you should expect from your youngest employees — such as their keen interest in diversity in the workplace.  

How to Create An Internship Programme That Enriches Your People Strategy

Organisations and interns alike can benefit from a great internship experience. So how do you maximise the impact of your programme?

1. Offer a hands-on experience.

No intern ever wants to spend their time doing coffee runs — that’s why it’s important to consider what your interns will actually do while they’re with your company.

Bright Network found the top reason to renege on an internship was being tempted with a more exciting role. For the majority of interns, this means getting their hands dirty.

Sara Bandurian, operations supervisor for Online Optimism, a digital marketing and design agency, says the aim of a great internship program should be to teach interns “all that you can with actual work”. 

Online Optimism gets their interns to choose a project and work together–without too much supervision–to truly get the most from their internship.

Meanwhile, Cortez says that although some programs are seen mainly as a recruiting tool, at Fearless they are “designed for impact”. She says having interns contribute to valuable projects is good for them and your company. 

“We want to make sure that every single intern has the opportunity to achieve their goals and add all their contributions they have made to the company on their resume,” she said. “For example, we run a weekly pulse check soliciting feedback from interns; we use that data to customise or swarm around to give support to each intern so they have the most impactful experience based on their needs and passions.”

Fearless also provides training in professional development skills such as how to interview, network, and build a resume, along with sessions on company benefits, entrepreneurship, and leadership training.

A great internship could be capped off with a formal presentation of a project, data, or product proposal to C-Suite executives or department heads in the final week. 

2. Provide mentorship through one-to-ones.

Every intern should be paired up with an experienced member of staff who will act as their mentor throughout their internship journey. Programme one-to-ones for each pair at regular intervals— and try this template to help you get the most from the process.

These informal meetings can keep the intern on track with their goals, support them with adapting to their new environment, create a strong personal relationship inside the company and allow for praise, feedback, and sharing ideas. 

3. Consider returnships.

People may find themselves putting their careers on hold for any number of reasons before eventually stepping back into the workplace again. Enter the returnship.

Returnships are similar to internships in scope — but they’re for workers who have had some time away from their careers. 

With returnships, your firm can join companies like Amazon and Goldman Sachs in providing a platform to help returnees transition back into the workforce. They give employees the chance to update their knowledge and skills, and offer your firm a path to recruiting employees with valuable experience and talent.

4. Create internal and external networking opportunities.

Bright Network found that graduates see limited networking opportunities as the number one barrier to their careers. It’s a particular challenge for people from lower socio-economic areas, as well as people of colour and LGBTQ+ graduates. 

Providing coaching in networking skills and opportunities to practice them will make your internship programme a compelling prospect for people from diverse backgrounds, and help your company too. 

Bandurian says that introducing new people into your organisation “improves everyone’s ability to constantly meet, get to know, and adapt new personalities and perspectives into company culture”.

Some ways to facilitate networking between interns and staff from all over your company include:

  • Arranging weekly lunch meetings 
  • Scheduling team-building exercises 
  • Rotating interns around different teams and departments
  • Allowing interns to accompany staff to external meetings with clients

5. Measure progress. 

Planning an exceptional internship experience is just the first step. You also need to measure how your interns progress throughout their journey and know when to pivot if necessary. Treat your interns like employees. Both the interns and their supervisors should have the tools available to set objectives, track progress, address challenges, and recognise achievement. 

Lattice helps organisations create People programme models that put people first. To learn more about how Lattice’s Performance and Engagement Tools could help you create a high-impact internship programme, request a demo