Internship Programs Can Be a Testing Ground for New Recruits

By Dan Ryan, Director of Human Resources and Beth Harvell, Human Resources Coordinator Smith Seckman Reid Nashville September 8, 2005

Editor’s Note: The following is a very brief digest of a much longer article on the same topic that will appear in an upcoming issue of CSE.

Hiring new engineers for your firm can be a lot like getting married. The number of hours your new employees will spend at work is probably greater than the time they will spend with a spouse, friend or anyone else. Because this relationship is one you want to get right, there are specific actions that you can take to make the right hire on the first try.

Unlike a typical interview scenario, the internship gives you daily observation and interaction with job candidates. You get much more than a resume, an interview and a first impression–you get to witness a “dry run” over a period of weeks or months. When the internship comes to its natural end, you have the option of extending an offer–or not.

The benefits to your firm of this multi-layered internship program include:

%%POINT%%Interns who gain invaluable practical experience and contribute to the quality of the profession.

%%POINT%%Interns who spread positive word-of-mouth about the exceptional experience they gained at your firm, making your recruiting efforts easier.

%%POINT%%The opportunity to avoid the cost of a bad hire.

%%POINT%%New employees who need far less training.

The first rule of a quality internship program is to make it real. Any internship program should allow the interns to be integrally involved in actual work. And give interns an adequate amount of time to get immersed in your culture.

Another part of making the experience real is compensation. Paid internships will always attract a larger array of candidates than unpaid ones, and interns who are paid are more accountable for their responsibilities.

Systematically place interns with a variety of engineering professionals throughout their internships, maximizing points of contact between interns and their potential co-workers. Make sure you provide a range of people for your interns to apprentice with, including senior designers, engineers, project managers and others.

A great way to observe an intern’s abilities to work within a group and communicate in a presentation setting is by having the interns work together on a major project to present to senior management. As an instructive tool, this task helps interns learn to build a cohesive team to complete an objective. As an added benefit to your firm, these projects can provide invaluable information that regular staff members do not have time to gather in their regular roles, such as research into natural gas prices and a recommendation regarding the types of network technology to consider to better connect remote offices.

Should your firm end up hiring an intern, this full range of experience will make it easier for him or her to hit the ground running, decreasing the grade of the learning curve. And, an employee who joins the firm knowing people throughout your organization is more deeply entrenched in your firm’s family and less likely to leave.

As a means of recruiting new employees, your internship program should serve as a period of evaluation during which you can decide if the candidate is a match for your firm on many fronts, including the ability of the intern to:

%%POINT%%Learn new skills and knowledge

%%POINT%%Work with other people

%%POINT%%Make presentations to others

%%POINT%%Take on responsibility

%%POINT%%Fit in with your culture

Establishing a fantastic internship program is a start, and graduates of your program will be great ambassadors when they return to campus. But to jump-start interest in your program and ramp up interest, you must actively market your program.