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Recruitment And Retention: Is A Summer Intern The Right Way To Build Your Talent Pipeline?

Talent is the critical success factor for businesses today- and right now it's not easy to get or keep great employees. If you're looking to build your team with aligned core values, new talent that is motivated and flexible, or a diverse mix of experience, education, gender and race you may have to consider new sources and recruitment processes. If your business has a new digital element or you're working in a new sector and you need new skills that you haven't hired before, it might be time to consider new recruitment strategies.

The recruiting process and retention efforts across the United States have experienced a great deal of change. It has become harder to find the right people while also improving employee retention. Smart leaders are thinking very creatively about the most effective and efficient ways to get and attract the top talent in order to run and grow their business in these unusual times.

One solution for new employees that some leaders are turning to with great success is summer internships. This isn't the right solution in every case. Before you use summer interns to build your talent pipeline, there are three questions you must consider first.

#1 Do you have clearly scoped projects to do?

Are there clearly scoped projects that the summer intern can start now? I don't know a single team out there who wasn't overwhelmed and could use help. But interns aren't necessarily the best people to plug into this kind of overwhelmed overworked team that has little time to break down the tasks in an understandable way for new recruits. However, if you do have a clear outcome of something that you want and need done now, that could be a perfect fit for an intern.

Let's be clear, you don't need to have every step mapped out. That's up to the smart, suitably qualified intern. But you need to have a clear outcome and you need to have the resources available to support their journey there. Those resources might be data, historical information, or team support from high-quality teachers at your organization who can provide institutional knowledge.

Woman sketching a business plan on a placard at a creative office getty

#2 Do you plan to make a full time hire in the next six to 12 months?

If you anticipate making a full time hire in your organization or specifically on this team in the next six to 12 months, an intern lowers your risk factors. A great deal of work, energy, and time is spent on finding prospective employees and hiring them. The hiring process creates a very large risk that the new hire will leave because it's not a great fit after all.

We know that interviewing is a dismal predictor of job success. But with an intern, you have eight to 10 weeks to get to know how they work. Equally importantly, they also have that time to get to know how you work and what you do. You still have to work the recruitment process and select the right intern, although there are pretty cool recruitment partnerships to be made out there. But your investment of 10 weeks of time and salary will give you a pretty solid sense of how your summer intern will fit long term. Assuming you've done your job well, you'll have a vetted known quantity to join your team.

Business people shaking hands after successful meeting getty

#3 Are you looking to try a new approach on your team?

If you're looking to try out a different skill set or background to see how new talent might fit on and enhance your team, an internship presents a low risk way to explore the right fit. Perhaps you've never had an MBA on the team and your nonprofit or business is thinking about hiring someone for social impact.

Why not bring in qualified applicants who are smart and perhaps even have some work experience. Identify a high-value 10-week project and hire a graduate student to see how it goes.

If your answer was ‘Yes!’ or ‘I think so,’ to at least two of these questions, here are your next steps.

What’s Next?

White note paper with what's next on yellow background getty

First Step

Drill down on that project and the resources required for the best talent to be successful. Spend 15 or 20 minutes really thinking about what it is that you'd want done and what it would take to get there. Share that with a colleague or two for feedback. Once you've narrowed it down and found clarity, get your job descriptions ready.

Second Step

Get real about the qualifications. To set you both up for success clearly communicate the qualifications. Does the job require the work experience and coursework that an MBA or other graduate student might have? If what you actually need is someone who's highly resourceful, digitally literate and curious, but can have a beginner's mind about the project you've created, clearly communicate this from the beginning. How you layout the qualifications will determine your pool of job candidates. You might just have the perfect fit for these incredibly ambitious, thoughtful and wise beyond their years Gen Y college students. The important thing is to not inflate or restrict your job posting with a lot of qualifications that will just bring in one demographic.

Third Step

If you're trying out a different skill set or background, get clear about what the experiment is that you're doing. What is your hypotheses and what would it look like to succeed so that you're sure to know at the end of the summer, whether or not that intern or someone with a similar profile is a good fit for your company.

While it may not feel like it in some corners of the country, summer is right around the corner. Ideally, you want to have your job posting up by March 1 for summer internships to ensure that you get the best candidates applying.

Remember, if you answered yes to two or three of these questions, but want a little support setting yourself up for success, there are some great partners out there. Some help with the intern recruitment process and attract the right candidate for your summer project, and others offer training, mentoring, or peer groups to enhance your intern’s experience and performance. Good luck and welcome to the future of talent!

Email us for a free guide to build an internship program that creates a robust talent pipeline of diverse, purpose-driven professionals who meet your needs. Request a free excerpt of my forthcoming book, Going First: An Invitation to Find the Courage to Lead Purposefully and Inspire Action, here.

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