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  • Developing Interns in Areas Critical to Their Careers

    February 24, 2020 | By NACE Staff

    An intern gains on the job experience.

    TAGS: best practices, internships, program development, nace insights, talent acquisition

    Spotlight for Recruiting Professionals

    It is important for employers to develop and provide impactful professional development opportunities for interns. Doing so—and doing it right—can have positive implications for organizations looking to convert outstanding candidates and their interns looking to transition to the work force.

    “Students are aware that as they begin to think about entering the work force, they need to be a well-rounded candidate to be competitive,” says Mary Kate Hom, internship and student engagement specialist in the RTI University Collaboration Office.

    Hom notes that internships are attractive to students for many reasons, but specifically because they provide the opportunity to gain exposure to experiences that don’t exist within the walls of a classroom.

    “They are interested in a holistic learning experience that develops their whole person, not just the technical or industry-specific side of the profession they are hoping to enter,” she explains.  

    “In addition to the technical skills interns gain in their day-to-day work, they also need—and want—opportunities to refine their soft skills. The next generation of the work force is looking for more than just a job. They are drawn to the culture, mission, and the opportunity to develop and grow. Professional development is a huge consideration when they evaluate their various opportunities.”

    Providing professional development opportunities is especially important in light of employers’ perceptions of college graduates’ career readiness. NACE’s Job Outlook 2020 survey found that employers view graduates as least proficient in some of the areas that employers deemed most essential, including critical thinking/problem solving, professionalism/work ethic, and oral/written communications.

    “If your organization seeks to convert interns to hires after graduation, you are providing them with valuable opportunities to develop skills that will, in turn, make them more competitive and successful in your organization,” Hom points out.

    “On the other hand, generating professional development opportunities benefits the employers even if the intern never returns to your organization. Interns are brand ambassadors. If interns have a positive experience, they will likely be positive brand ambassadors, even if they do not return as employees. Part of creating a positive experience for interns is developing their whole person; that includes professional development.”

    Hom offers several tips for developing and providing professional development opportunities for interns:

    • Ensure relevance—Evaluate current trends and needs in the workplace. What does an early career professional need to be successful? Build programming around your findings.
    • Align programming with your needs—If you are building a pipeline of talent that you hope to convert to hires upon graduation, what skills do they need to thrive at your organization? This varies by employer. Think of things that make your business unique and develop opportunities to expose interns to this special skill set.
    • Activate your network—Many career services offices get feedback from employers that hire graduates and early career professionals about what soft skills need development. Ask them for insight. Additionally, crowd-source ideas from people in your organization who have hosted interns and hired recent graduates. Where do they see strengths? Where is there room for growth?
    • Go to the source—Ask interns what they want to learn. Sometimes, employers assume they know what interns want or need to learn. Instead, ask interns what they feel is important. Their perspective is unique and important, and they are eager to share what is important to them.
    • Leverage your resources—Resources can often be a barrier to creating professional development opportunities for interns. These kinds of opportunities require time and money—valuable resources for any organization. That said, there are easy ways to leverage the resources that already exist within your organization. If you are hosting a professional development event that focuses on career preparedness and job searches, leverage the people in your organization who work in talent acquisition. Maybe you want to provide a financial wellness course to interns. Who in your organization is a leader in the finance field? Would they be willing and able to lead a workshop?
    • Tap into other available resources— When developing and delivering professional development opportunities, the NACE Career Readiness Competencies can serve as a foundation for programming. The NACE Community is also a great resource. There are often discussions around professional development for students and trends that are emerging.
    • Provide refreshments during workshops—If you schedule a morning workshop, be sure to offer good coffee and maybe some donuts or bagels. The same approach could be used for lunch.
    • Ice breaker activities get things rolling—Having a short, but engaging activity at the beginning of a professional development workshop gets interns out of their seats. It helps them get to know each other and builds camaraderie.
    • Start small—A coffee networking session with organization leadership can be incredibly beneficial. Schedule an hour for everyone to have coffee and connect. Interns will see the investment in their future from senior leadership, get to know each other, and learn how to network in an informal way.
    • Create post-event-surveys—Ask your interns what they think. What went well? What could be better? Do the same for your presenters. What did they think about the session? What would they recommend in the future?

    “Finally, make it authentic,” Hom advises. “This generation wants a clear and genuine commitment to their development. They want to feel like leadership is sincerely invested in helping them grow. Can senior leaders be visible and present during any of the opportunities? Better yet, can they lead any of these opportunities? Let your interns hear the message loud and clear that they are important to the organization.”

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