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How to make this summer’s interns thrive



As a result of the pandemic, summer internships have looked different over the past two years. Pre-pandemic it meant a physical influx of junior talent in the office, bringing new energy and having extra help at the organization’s fingertips. Over the last couple of years, however, many companies had to cancel or reduce their internship programs, adding stress to both students—trying to compete for limited spots—and companies—scrambling to resource projects that normally would have been completed by interns. 

This year, many companies are resuming their in-person summer internships and aggressively competing for intern talent. Because interns now have more options, they are already reneging on offers they had previously accepted. In order to both recruit and retain this year’s interns, it’s imperative companies get it right. 

Understanding Gen Z

Connecting with Gen Z talent and understanding what makes them tick will create successful internship experiences. A recent research report by McKinsey & Company shared what Gen Z values most: They search for truth, like to express themselves, and take action on behalf of the causes in which they believe. They’re accepting of diverse points of view and are “radically inclusive.” In a job, they are looking for flexibility, competitive compensation, access to senior leaders, and environmental responsibility. With those values in mind, effectively recruiting this talent means the following.

Flexible working arrangements: These students have already proven that they can work remotely: They’ve taken online college courses over the past two years, both receiving instruction and taking tests without stepping foot in a classroom. It is important that companies respect their desire for flexibility, providing options such as working in-office or remote, reduced micromanagement of projects, or the ability to work non-traditional hours.

Competitive compensation: Salaries are rising, with companies expecting to pay an average of 3.4% more to workers in 2022. Social media puts incredible pressure on Gen Z to compete. Regardless of industry, the competition for talent at every experience level is fierce, and interns will be looking for competitive compensation offers.

Environmental responsibility: A Deloitte survey revealed the number one concern for Gen Z is climate change and protecting the environment. Gen Z is interested in how companies are reducing their carbon footprints and what their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives are. Be ready to share what your organization is doing to give back to the community and the planet. 

Integrate interns into your workforce

Once you hire this season’s interns, you need to ensure they flourish. You want them happy throughout the internship, but you also want them to enjoy the experience so much that they accept your full-time offer to return upon graduation. Even better, you want them to return to their campuses as ambassadors, telling others about your company to create the next intern class.  

Program management team: Each internship needs to provide a balance of meaningful work, one to one, and group meetings with senior leaders, and attendance at company town halls and events where interns have the opportunity to interact socially with other team members. A program management team will ensure these elements are in place and keep a pulse on interns’ progress and experience throughout the entire opportunity.

Senior leader engagement: Access to senior leaders will differentiate a company’s internship experience. Interns share with their peers the levels of leader interactions they do or do not have, and this can make a company’s internship and full-time offer more desirable–or less so.   Offering meetings with senior talent, including the C-suite of your organization, and encouraging two-way dialogue are important in building trust and loyalty. Take advantage of this short time you have with this junior talent by incorporating reverse mentoring, too. Gen Z enjoys sharing their perspectives and experiences with senior leadership.  

Rotational programs: Providing opportunities for interns to gain as much knowledge and hands-on experiences as they can in a short amount of time is critical. Create internships that allow interns to work with several leaders, on several teams, and in a variety of projects.

Embrace their altruism: Ensure there are designated days during the summer for interns to serve and give back to their community or advance a cause. 

Build loyalty to encourage a post-graduate return

The program experience itself will undoubtedly influence whether interns want to come back and work for you after graduation. The successful company continues to recruit these students until they return for their first day of work in a full-time role. These relationships must be nurtured for the entire academic year. 

The companies with the lowest renege percentage for their converted summer interns are those that get their “keep warm” strategies right. Keep warm strategies should start before the intern’s first day and continue throughout the entire academic year post-internship. 

Some of the best keep warm strategy recommendations include connecting students with leaders in their desired departments and creating a regular cadence of communication about events and happenings of the company.

Companies should offer guidance on summer internship housing and provide summer internship housing stipends. Provide summer intern swag gifts such as water bottles, note pads, and pens prior to interns arriving. At completion of the internship provide items like vests, socks, blankets, beach towels, and umbrellas. This helps interns to act as brand ambassadors once they are back on their campuses. 

This year’s summer interns are full of promise. Eager to gain hands-on experience and contribute to your organization, this junior talent also knows what they want and are looking for companies who recognize and embrace those priorities. Companies who make the effort to understand, integrate, and nurture this year’s class of interns will create a productive addition to their workforce and a talent pipeline for the future. 





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