In his latest book, Linkedin co-founder Reid Hoffman challenges managers to rethink their relationships with their employees. Gone are the days when most people stay at one job for their entire lives: “In terms of professional skills it’s no longer useful to think about the industrial model. I train and train and then I am ready. Rather, it’s like agile programming—continual adaptation.” And so you see a lot younger alumni of companies, who leave while still in their twenties instead of, say, at 65.
This means managers need to build powerful, career-altering experiences for their young talent– employers need to provide tremendous value and career development to their ambitious young hires. And this applies not just to their full-times, but to their interns, too. In fact, a strong internship program can do wonders for a company’s brand and ability to attract and retain the best talent. Why?
- It builds campus desirability
Talented interns probably have talented friends, and young people talk and compare notes frequently. If a particular company gets a reputation for a terrible internship experience, applicants may start looking elsewhere to start building their careers. Conversely, someone who just had the summer of his life won’t be shy to tell everyone about it, and the effects of those word-of-mouth appraisals will compound over time. More and more talent will apply to the program in the future.
- It builds a strong network
Let’s say interns leave their experience extremely satisfied, praising it online, to their friends, to their family, etc. Even if they don’t end up working at the company full-time, they’ll maintain a positive memory of their experience interning there. 5-10 years down the line, these former interns (now maybe CTOs of bleeding-edge startups or bigwigs at consulting firms) won’t hesitate to recommend others to work at the company. Again, the effects of a strong internship program compound.
- It hardwires mentorship into a company’s DNA
If a company has a strong internship program, current employees should expect to play the mentor role for young college students coming in as interns. But to be an effective mentor, you probably need to know what good mentorship looks like. This raises the question of whether the company itself has a strong mentorship and career development process in place internally. The mentorship that an internship program avails could trickle up and foster the same type of culture of guidance for everyone else in the organization.
Developing a strong internship experience requires a solid amount of planning and great attention to detail, but the necessary component parts are pretty intuitive:
- Projects: give interns something substantial to work on, then guide them in managing their time, communicating progress, and presenting their work.
- Guidance: think of interns as younger versions of yourself– help them get a leg up. Make introductions for them to people they could benefit speaking to. Teach them how to follow up and send thank you notes. Get lunch with them and ask them about their life and career goals.
- Big Picture: allow interns to rotate through different functions so that they see the effect each team’s work has on the overall mission of the company.
- Events: let interns get to know each other and other young people at the company.
Ultimately, lifting brand appeal is a question of culture. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has frequently said “Your culture is your brand,” that the external image a company has is simply an extension of what’s going on internally. The best way to brand build is to culture build, and developing a strong internship program is just one way to do that.