Getting the Most Out of Intern Surveys

group of interns posing for the camera

TAGS: best practices, Internships, nace insights,

For employers, the primary purpose of investing time and resources in an internship program is to evaluate recruits for full-time employment and then to convert high-performing interns into full-time employees.

With this goal in mind, an intern survey is a valuable tool. It allows the employer to get a sense of the quality of the intern’s experience during an internship. This includes identifying potential problems that could prevent conversion from occurring, such as providing poor supervision, assigning work that either does not challenge or goes well beyond the capabilities of the intern, not offering adequate professional development opportunities, and more.

Here are some recommendations for how to get the most out of your organization’s intern surveys to so that you can assess your program from your interns’ perspectives:

  • Explain the purpose of the survey—Include a sentence before the survey instructions that explains why you are conducting the survey. It could be something like, “We would like feedback on our internship program to help improve it for next year’s interns.”
  • Offer a gift for participation—Incentivize survey respondents by offering a small branded item for completing the survey. 
  • Focus on collecting data that leads to improvements—Limit questions in the survey to those that collect data that are actionable. Avoid collecting data that might be interesting/good to know, but cannot be used to make improvements to your internship program. Ask yourself the following question, “If we include this question, will it provide data we can use to make improvements to our internship program?” If the organization is not willing to take action based on the feedback, asking the question is likely meaningless and potentially hurtful.
  • Make it easy to respond—Limit open-ended questions to those that are most critical, and put those up front. For the most part, use yes/no, multiple choice, rankings, and ratings to make it easy for your interns to weigh in. As appropriate, allow the intern space on the survey to explain their response.
  • Avoid including double-barreled questions—Double-barreled questions ask two questions in one, so it isn’t clear to the person taking the survey what the answer reflects. Is the response answering the first question or the second? For example, a question such as “Were your assignments clear to you and related to your school major?” is double-barreled. What if the intern’s assignments were not clear, but they were related to the intern’s major? To avoid confusion, simply ask the questions separately.
  • Chunk questions into sections with labels—Chunking with labels helps respondents organize their thoughts and retrieve their answers from memory more easily. For example, your intern survey might group questions into sections with labels such as:
    • Initial contact with our company;
    • The hiring and offer process;
    • Explanation of the job and internship program;
    • Likes and dislikes of our recruiting process;
    • Comparison with other companies’ recruiting processes;
    • Mentor and supervisor relationships;
    • Quality of your work experience; and
    • Recommendations for the future.
  • Inquire about differences between rotations—If your organization has a rotational program for its interns, ask about the individual aspects of each, such as the work assignments, supervision, and culture in each department.
  • Ensure questions are specific—To obtain useful data, make sure your questions are specific, when appropriate. For example, if your organization provides housing for its interns, rather than asking "Was the housing adequate?," ask if the apartment unit was the right size, if the location felt safe, and if the intern had a positive experience with the housing management company (as three separate questions—not one!).
  • Use scales and rating systems—When asking interns to rate an experience or area, use a scale with a number assigned to the options to obtain an average that can be assessed against the ratings of other years. For example, a Likert scale where 1=Very poor, 2=Poor, 3=Fair, 4=Good, 5=Very good provides useful data.
  • Don’t repeat questions between surveys—If you are conducting more than one survey—such as one about recruiting/onboarding at the start of the internship and then an exit survey at its conclusion—show that you value your interns’ time by not having them answer the same question(s) again.
  • Include an option for anonymity—While the survey may be very important to your efforts, it may not yield the most honest answers from students who are, in many cases, still seeking full-time employment. Allowing interns the option to take the survey without identifying themselves would likely produce more honest and valuable data and insight. You might also consider having a third-party conduct the survey.

Using surveys to assess your company’s internship program can inform decisions that can improve the program and your company’s conversion rate. The surveys also help interns feel like their views are important to your company and that they can contribute to its success.