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  • Clearing the Obstacles of a Large-Scale Intern Program

    May 17, 2017 | By NACE Staff

    Many interns work in an office setting.

    TAGS: internships, operations, nace insights

    Spotlight for Recruiting Professionals

    Last summer, IBM provided internships for roughly 2,000 college students. Seventy-eight percent of these interns worked out of 13 main offices—including in New York, Raleigh, and Austin—and 85 percent worked in IBM’s 13 key business groups—such as Sales, Watson, Watson Research, Watson Internet of Things, Cloud, and Cognitive Solutions & Research.

    “Our internship program allows students to apply their knowledge and expertise in their particular field, while gaining experience working for a global enterprise,” explains Terrell Johnson, IBM university relations recruitment professional. “The result is experiential education that deepens the students’ knowledge and prepares them further for their chosen careers.”

    There are challenges associated with effectively managing such a large-scale and widespread program. For example, Johnson says that despite the program’s size, IBM recruiters interact with some great talent around the world, but are unable to offer everyone an opportunity to interview.

    “We have hiring targets and demands to meet just like any other company, and we are looking for the best and the brightest students,” he says. “Another challenge is our competition. Our competitors are becoming more and more creative with recruitment efforts and we have to continually stay on top or ahead of the game to appeal to that top talent.”

    With this in mind, IBM looks for top candidates who fit the company. In addition to academic requirements, IBM seeks students who are problem solvers, innovative, and have great oral and written communication skills.

    “For most of our technical roles, we also look for students who have some technical experience with programming and scripting in a particular language,” Johnson says. “We are looking for students who want to be challenged on a daily basis and who want to become lifelong learners.”

    Johnson says other key elements for successfully managing a large-scale internship program include having a strong and robust campus recruitment team, a dedicated team of hiring managers, and recruitment partners who make sure candidates advance through the hiring system as quickly as possible.

    “Having these three components not only helps IBM to be successful in our recruitment efforts, it also provides a great candidate experience,” he says.

    To further enhance this, IBM developed its Employment Pathways for Interns & Co-ops (EPIC) program. This program provides students with an enriched internship experience that includes mentors, on- and off-site activities, networking opportunities, field trips, and more. 

    “We have two IBMers—one for the United States and another for Canada—who manage the EPIC program and its logistics,” Johnson explains. “They also have ‘touch base’ meetings with hiring managers throughout the internship to ensure the interns are having a great experience professionally, socially, and mentally.”

    Communication is necessary for helping interns feel connected to the company. Communication between IBM and its interns begins from the time the interns accept their offers until their start date and extends throughout their internships. IBM then maintains ties with its interns when they return to campus through social media and via e-mail. The company also enlists its interns to help with on-campus recruiting events, networking opportunities, and more. This way, interns feel valued and already part of the team.

    Ignoring the candidate experience is one of the most common—and damaging—missteps employers make. As Johnson notes, the work isn’t done when interns are brought on board.

    “They are so focused on hiring a large number of interns, that they have to stick to the motto of quantity over quality,” he says.

    The bottom line—no matter the size of the company’s internship program—is converting the best interns into full-time hires. To do that, the company must give its interns such a meaningful experience that they want to work for the organization once they graduate.

    “A company can have thousands of interns across the country working for it, but it still needs to focus on their experience week by week to ensure they have a valuable experience,” Johnson says. “Ultimately, we hope that will lead them into working with us full time.”