Fall recruiting season is in full swing, so it’s time for a dive into issues surrounding summer internship programs and how they impact program outcomes.
Join guest panelists Rebecca Cuff (Investment Management Development Program Director, Vanguard) and Jeff Serpas (Sr. Director of Program Management, GE) as we talk about making your internship program an even better source for candidates for your full-time program.
Strategies to Improve Offer Conversion Rates
Obviously the goal is 100 percent, but do you have a real-world goal for the number of accepted offers (people who turn up on day one for work)?
Jeff: For us it’s 100 percent. We haven’t been there the last few years. It seems like every year we’re getting more acceptances followed up by phone calls saying, ‘Hey, I know accepted but, never mind.’
Our hope is that with more data, more engagement and higher touch that we’ll hopefully see that number down. At least the candidates won’t feel like we forgot about them—there may be other factors where they choose to renege on an offer, but hopefully it’s not because they don’t feel like we engaged with them.
Rebecca: Our goal is also 100 percent, but I can’t say that declined offers don’t happen. But what’s interesting to me is that where it happens is not a total surprise. Usually there’s something in that relationship that gives you a hint. You can go back and look at it and say ‘Was that person really bought into this?’
But you gave them an offer for a reason. So I would say our target is a 100 percent. Sometimes we lose some and you can usually figure out what was behind that.
Not every intern gets an offer. Potentially there is fallout, either in the program for the remainder of the internship or potentially out on campus. To what extent has that been a concern for you guys? Are there some things that you’ve done either in the program itself or on campus to mitigate its effects?
Rebecca: A lot of universities where we’re doing recruiting, we have a good enough footprint and enough representation that not giving somebody an offer is going to ruin that reputation or the relationship there.
I would say where we’re trying to build a footprint, that concern is there. There’s not much that you can do. The decision is what it is, but how you mitigate that goes back to their experience. Although they may not have gotten an offer, did they have a good experience while they’re here? Were they treated well? Did they develop skills? Do they have something great to put on their resume?
I would say that is the least we can do if they’re not going to get an offer. I can’t promise a job offer but I can promise you that you will learn something, you will have a valuable experience and you will have something great to put on your resume.
Jeff: For us it’s been more about just letting the candidate know where they stand. I think where we heard negative things is when you have folks that ended up not getting an offer but there’s a long delay in letting them know. They tend to be much better if you’re just very timely with that response so they can move on.
Intern Performance Vs. Direct Hires
When you look at interns that have gone into your full-time programs versus outside hires, is there a performance difference between them?
Rebecca: Sure, in the short term there’s a slight performance difference, primarily because former interns are familiar with (Vanguard), they have contacts, they understand how to navigate the system—even if it’s a how to make an appointment or meeting with somebody. Simple things like that. They feel more comfortable.
But if we’ve done a good job in hiring, even if it’s an external hire rather than through the internship, it’s only a matter of time before the difference becomes invisible.
Jeff: Former interns are going to hit the ground running faster just because they know the people and some of the processes. That’s why for our program (at GE), we find that we’re converting around 90 percent of our full-time hires came out of our intern pool.
So when we’re on campus in the fall, we’re in intern mode. We still are looking diamonds in the rough for full-time hires, but that’s really a supplemental activity. The main focus is on interns.
Do either of you get any pushback or concerns with assignment managers that might be getting someone recently hired externally versus an intern or former intern?
Rebecca: Something we’ve done a little different this year with the onboarding process is the first rotation manager isn’t spending time getting them familiar with the processes).
We actually spent more time this year getting them familiar with some things that cause that first manager a challenge. The thing that makes them sigh and say ‘I have to explain all of this to them rather than spending my time on technical training. I’m spending time getting their phones set up’ or something like that.
Jeff: We try to allocate our first rotationers to assignment leaders that have been better with the first rotationers, that are just willing and able to spend a little bit more time in that coaching process that it takes for new hires.
How do you identify people like that? Are these folks who have raised their hand for that sort of role? How do you determine that someone would be good for a first rotationer?
Jeff: Usually the person who’s managing the headcount for that particular program knows their organization really well. We also get a lot of feedback via a survey system where we are pulsing both our assignment leaders as well as our program members on their overall experience. So we’ll get ratings on our assignment leaders. Usually the ones that are getting high ratings from their first rotationers, they’ll tend to get more of those folks.
Rebecca: If it’s typical approach to have a buddy an internal program participant or alumni who works closely with the participants. That’s often how we ease the burden, particularly for an external hire. Like, ‘Hey, if you have questions, go to this person rather than bothering the person who is going to evaluate you with a simple question.’ Is that common practice?
Jeff: It depends on the program and business. We tend to have a current leadership program member who will usually take on two to three of the new hires, in part for logistics. So they’ll help with flights or travel planning, for example. The new hire won’t have a lot of their internal accounts set up yet. They’ll handle travel and a lot of the other logistics and they’re also there to help answer a lot of those basic questions so that hopefully they’re not asking the assignment leader.
That way the relationship between the program member and the assignment leader is more about the work at hand versus … the logistics of being a new GE hire.
Measuring the ROI of your Program
How do you measure the return on investment of your internship program? Is it heavily weighted towards that conversion factor or are there other elements that you’re measuring for ROI?
Rebecca: In the short term, it is that conversion. There is a long-term ROI that you can measure eventually … that return on investment is you’ve got some top-performing candidates who’ve been converted. They’re pushing the agenda and they’re high performers and they’re successful and they stay with the organization. That’s very difficult to measure in the short term and adjust the program in the short term for that.
Jeff: Yeah, for us it’s initial conversion and then long-term attrition. Having lower attrition shows that the internship program served its purpose in being that extended interview. So we … have lower than standard attrition compared to the rest of the organization.
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