How We Rebuilt our Failing Internship Program

SOURCE: InternsMe - How We Rebuilt our Failing Internship Program

“Did your new intern take this long to bring you coffee?”

“What? No, why would my intern bring me coffee?”

“For ‘Intern Coffee’! My intern’s not here, its 2:09 PM.”

“Um. Intern Coffee isn’t for your intern to bring you coffee, it’s for you to take the intern out of the office to discuss goals and objectives over coffee.”

“What?! Goals and objectives for what?! Why did no one tell me this?!”

“… Aren’t you the internship program co-ordinator?”

Thankfully, our internship program was never that bad, but it was far from what we needed it to be. And yes, that’s pretty embarrassing to admit for a company that’s leading the space in student & graduate recruitment.

Our goal had been to hire our top interns full time, but we weren’t able to successfully convert the right candidates and our company was suffering because of it.

When we first began to rebuild our internship program, we knew we wanted to stay the furthest away from our old mistakes.

We had a clear objective in mind for our new internship program: to hire interns and then train them to become our future, full-time team. So we needed a program that would convert as many of our interns into full-time employees as possible, and with that objective in mind, we set out to build an internship program that led to a 90% conversion to full-time.

And here’s exactly how we did it.

Oh, and a quick note: We’re very happy for you to have our free Internship Program Template based on everything we’ve learned.

But wait, why do we need an intern again?

As the saying goes, the first step is always the hardest one. Well, not in this case! It wasn’t very difficult for us to realize we needed extra sets of hands to help us out across all departments.

Our first set of questions were:

  • What teams needed interns most urgently?
  • What type of support is required?

We thought about how we could benefit our interns because figuring out the responsibilities of the position in this way helped us create an internship program that benefits both us and our intern.

Our second set of questions helped us consider the logistics of hiring:

  • Budget: How much will we pay our intern? Are there non-monetary perks and benefits we can offer if the internship will be unpaid?
  • Working hours/duration: Will we require our intern to work full-time? How flexible can we be with scheduling, especially if the candidate is a student? How long will the internship last?
  • Dress code: Casual? Smart casual? Suit and tie? Scuba suit?
  • Workstation: Where will the intern sit? Do we have a workstation for them? Should we turn the storage room into an intern cubicle like last time? (Kidding!)

Once we had the logistics figured out, we put it all down on paper into a crystal clear job description, which answered our third set of questions:

  • So, what’s the job title?
  • And what are the roles and responsibilities?
  • What are the requirements for all candidates?
    • We thought about what major, work experience, coursework, technical skills, knowledge of tools, or passion projects we would like to see in our ideal intern
  • How much are we paying them again?
  • Do we have any additional requirements (visa type, driving license, second language skills)?

About this role

How we started hiring the best talent in half the time

Choosing the right person for the job is the most important success factor in an internship program. At first, we wanted interns hired as soon as we saw them, but we realized we needed to be selective, and that rushing through the hiring process was counterproductive – when we hired the first candidate we met to save time, we ended up spending twice as much time in training.

We also found a lot of time was wasted during our interview process. Back in the old days, we tailored our questions to each of the candidates we received. But we now have a standard list of questions that each applicant gets asked which lets us evaluate everyone equally and accurately.

When we changed up our approach, we ended up cutting our search process in half.

We now only spend around three weeks searching and on-boarding candidates who have the right skill set, fit the InternsME culture, and share our values. Once we find a few good candidates, we get to know them a little better.

  • Pre-interview: a phone-screening between the candidate and the manager before an invitation for a formal interview in-office is sent out
  • First interview: during the first round, we like to spend around 10 minutes on warm up questions with the candidate, 40 minutes on key competency questions, prior experience, and aptitude-related scenarios (“what would you do if…”, “how have you handled a situation where you were…”), and the last 10 minutes discussing InternsME.
  • Second interview: during the second round, Jean, our CEO, joins in for the interview. Our goal is to try and gauge how well the candidate fits into the InternsME culture and how well their vision aligns with ours. During the last half hour, we go over the role in more detail and about what InternsME is trying to accomplish. We want our candidates to be as excited as we are about our mission and even if the candidate is not extended an offer, we make sure they have a good experience throughout the entire process!

The 9 steps to 90% conversion

Fortunately, figuring out the internship position and finding the right candidate is the hard part. Making sure you have an internship program that is built for success is pretty easy!

Here are our 9 failproof steps to a successful internship program (that leads to 90% of our interns being hired full-time):

1. Money, money, moneeyyyyy… (isn’t everything!)

We conduct a State of the Internship survey every year and based on the results, put together an intern salary guide for the UAE. This is also our guide for setting our own interns’ salaries.

UAE Salary Guide

While money is not the only reason individuals decide to do internships, being paid makes interns feel independent and confident about their future and their career, which itself is very motivating!

2. Write them an offer (letter) they can’t refuse!

As for any new member joining the team, a verbal offer or contract just doesn’t cut it! Once we’ve decided to hire a candidate, we give them a call to verbally extend an offer and then follow up with a written offer letter. A written offer shows professionalism, legitimacy, and gives us the opportunity to lay out the daily duties, monthly projects, and expectations in a warm way. We don’t want to scare our interns off!

Our offer letters typically look like this:

InternsME Offer Letter

We like to include a welcome note, a short blurb about the position, the responsibilities and tasks that will be assigned, as well as the start and end date. We also add a confidentiality clause and the prospects of being offered a full time position.

3. Welcome to the first day of interning!

You know how they say the first 100 days of a presidency dictate the next four years? Well, the first day of an internship dictates how the rest of internship will go.

Our onboarding process begins the day before an intern’s first day at the office. We like to calm that night-before-the-first-day-of-school feeling by giving our new intern a quick phonecall to tell them what to expect on their first day, the dress code, lunch plans (we take every new joiner out for lunch!), and what to bring.

The next day, we have a welcome pack and a shiny, new workspace ready for them when they arrive:

InternsME Welcome Pack

4. How to survive eight hours of orientation, without becoming disorientated

Whenever we heard the words “intern training”, the first thing that jumped to mind was an endless stream of three-inch thick grey binders covering the A-to-Z on the employer, clients, and best practices. While company handbooks and guides can be helpful, we decided we needed to go for a more hands-on approach.

We asked our veteran interns and junior staff what they would have liked when they were newly employed. Here’s what they had to say:

“I didn’t know those little quotes on my desk were InternsME culture cards, or that eating lunch together everyday was a deliberate thing! We have a great culture, I would really like for our interns to know that from their first day!”

“There should be a few minutes of discussion on bigger picture stuff and the problem that InternsME is trying to address.”

“I joined the marketing team and after four weeks on the job, I was still feeling a little uncertain about how my role was empowering youth and curbing unemployment. I had a chat with my supervisor about it and it really added motivation, so I think having that conversation within the first week would be a great idea.”

“A structured first day and training would be great during the first week.”

So we combined all that input together and turned it into this:

First Day Schedule

The ultimate first day!

  • Sunday All-hands: Team meeting, group introductions, and discussion of goals of the weeks
  • E-rientation: Setting up and getting acquainted with all things online: email, online accounts, etc.
  • Training: About InternsME: Briefing on the history, mission, goals of InternsME as a whole, and role of new intern.
  • Team lunch: We pick a restaurant that is within walking distance and point out all the useful stores on the way there!
  • Training 2: Department/team: Familiarizing the intern with the inner workings and objectives of the team they’ll be working in
  • Intern Coffee: Informal discussion between the intern and manager on best practises, tips of the trade, expectations, and setting SMART goals for the intern.
  • Training 3: Other departments/teams: Introducing the intern to teams they won’t be working with but will indirectly support.
  • Presentation: What’s a first day without putting someone on the spot? We surprise every new member by asking them to create an impromptu powerpoint about themselves and present to the whole team at the end of the day! We follow up with a pop quiz on what the intern has learned about us on their first day (which is always only half of the team members’ names and their new email password)!

5. The Buddy System

Picking the right buddy for our new intern is one of our favourite tasks! It’s also one of the most important success factors that gives our internship program a 90% conversion. Our buddy pick is never a manager or a supervisor, just a team member who knows the company and culture really well.

Whenever our interns have been partnered up with buddies, they’ve been superstars at work because they were able to voice any concerns, problems become our full time favourites faster than you can say “full-time favourites!” Our ‘veter-interns’ tell us they love the buddy system because it gives them a comfortable opportunity to voice concerns and be open about any problems they may be facing.

6. High-priority projects + mistakes = intern learning moment!

Every single one of our interns takes on real projects from day one. (Well, day two. On day one, we’re busy taking our intern through the nitty gritties of life at InternsME.)

We strive to make sure our interns are constantly learning new things, being challenged, and getting the experience they need to grow. We achieve this by assigning interns real, meaningful tasks that make an impact in our day-to-day business. Our top performers are also assigned high-priority projects, which gives them the opportunity to prove themselves and showcase their skills.

7. Keeping Up With The Interns

We like to keep up with our interns’ progress using weekly check-in meetings, Asana (our favourite work management tool <3), and good ol’ Google Drive.

We use weekly check-in meetings to discuss:

  • What the intern did this week
  • What the results were
  • How the impact of results will be measured
  • What the intern will be working on next week

Our interns use Asana to keep track of all the tasks and projects they need to accomplish daily, weekly, and monthly:

Asana Task List

Our entire team uses Google Drive for everything and anything, so we utilize the comment and chat features in Google Docs to provide more specific, task-related feedback to our interns:

Google Docs

We invest a lot of time in feedback because a) it shows we care about their progress and b) it helps interns recognize their strengths and areas that may need improvement.

8. The intern of all trades

Once our interns are comfortable in their new role, we nudge (push) them out of the nest and into a rotation pool (with floaties, don’t worry) with other departments. This way, they get to:

  • Join us on as many meetings as their Google Calendars can handle in the first two weeks to learn about all the different moving parts of InternsME
  • Network with team members who they may not work with directly to help their understanding of the business
  • Expands their professional network
  • Try out different departments – you never know, an HR intern with a hidden passion for design might end up rotating to the marketing team and become an invaluable asset to them!

We also want to our interns to be multifaceted and to be able to support us across departments, so we conduct trainings on the tools we use and encourage interns to set time to read helpful resources and complete courses online.

For example, all our marketing interns:

9. From caterpillar to butterfly!

The ultimate goal of our internship program is to build our unique team of future employees. So when we really, really, really like one of our interns, and want them to stay (forever and ever and ever), we begin the conversion process.

We conduct an exit-interview to gauge their experience of the program and interest in returning to the company.

Next, we send out a short survey to our intern via email and invite them for a discussion based on their comments. This gives the exit interview some structure but also make sure all points are covered as sometimes interns are a little hesitant to discuss negative experiences or concerns in-person.

Our final step is to extend an offer to them (again, verbal offer followed by a written letter).

So that’s our internship program! Can’t wait to get started on yours?

We have a template ready for you to begin!

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If you’d like to use our process as a foundation for your next internship program, you’re totally welcome to grab the template!

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SOURCE: InternsMe - How We Rebuilt our Failing Internship Program