Paid or unpaid, a summer internship program can be a great recruiting tool, providing employers with ready access to the next generation of talent without the pressure of hiring someone unknown. But not all summer interns are created equal, which means the success of a summer internship program depends in large part on hiring the right people.

As much as possible, the process you use to hire interns should closely mirror the one your company or practice uses to hire regular employees. There are, however, a few fundamental differences employers should keep in mind while recruiting summer interns.
  • Planning. To get the most value out of an internship program, employers should have a clear idea of what roles the interns will fill. Will they be working on a single project from start to finish? Will they be rotating through multiple departments to learn different skills? Take the time to define those roles so managers know what to do with interns when they arrive and so interns know what's expected of them.

    Whatever an employer's reason for hiring summer interns, it's important for interns to be assigned meaningful work, so the company can assess their work ethic and potential as long-term employees, especially given the already difficult hiring market.

  • Sourcing. There are many resources employers can tap into to find candidates for summer internships—mainstream online job boards, local industry association websites, or even direct contact with local colleges, universities and professors, particularly if your company is looking for interns with certain majors.

  • Interviewing. Because intern candidates may not have a lot of relevant job experience, employers may want to expand their standard interview questionnaire to include questions about applicants' coursework, interests, career path, extracurricular activities, personalities, career goals and passions. During the interview, hiring managers and recruiters might also want to soften their normal interviewing style to put candidates at ease.

  • Onboarding and Performance Management. Recruiting summer interns is just the first step. How a company trains and manages its interns is just as important, if not more so, than getting them in the door.

Employers should encourage managers to be welcoming on an intern's first day, and if several interns are starting at or around the same time, consider holding an intern orientation session to acclimate them to your workplace. Assigning all interns a mentor can also help them adjust to your organization.

When it comes to performance management, supervisors may want to use a more hands-on approach with summer interns than they would with regular employees, with regular one-on-one check-ins to discuss the progress they've made on assignments, to coach them and to answer any questions.

As someone who started his career with an internship, I appreciate those employers who connect with interns and provide a meaningful working experience.

Hedley Lawson, Contributing Editor
Managing Partner
Aligned Growth Partners, LLC
(707) 217-0979