How to Recruit an Intern: An Essential Guide

Emma Harris
Emma Harris

HR and Career Expert

Reviewed by Melina Theodorou

Intern recruit sitting with supervisor at work

For students and recent graduates, internships are an opportunity to learn first-hand about the world of work, gain experience and connect with professionals in their preferred sector. 

However, companies can also profit extensively from recruiting interns.

Nearly all Fortune 500 companies offer internship programmes to younger professionals. Although most companies have limited opportunities available for interns, many large businesses offer over 1,000 internship positions a year. 

If your company is considering extending its current internship opportunities or introducing a brand-new internship programme, then our guide is here to help. We will walk you through essential elements of intern recruitment, including how to create an effective recruitment strategy and select the ideal intern.

Why recruit an intern

You may be asking yourself if it’s worth it to recruit interns. After all, you will have to go through the long process of writing job descriptions, preparing the training, finding supervisors, interviewing and onboarding. 

While this may sound like a logistical nightmare, there are numerous reasons why giving a graduate or student the chance to intern at your company could be beneficial. 

1. It can be a trial run 

Before you employ someone, it’s hard to determine whether they’ll fit in with your team. Selection processes are great for shortlisting candidates and finding someone who will work well in the position on offer; however, you can’t confirm this until you have hired the person. 

One way to test out a prospective employee is to take them on as an intern. During an internship, colleagues and managers can test whether individuals can do their job well and their compatibility with the team. Meanwhile, the intern learns the business model and any specific procedures and methods used. Therefore, internships allow companies to assess a person’s performance and get a clearer idea of their suitability for the role.

So, while not all internship positions aim to fill a permanent spot, trialling an employee is hugely beneficial.

Additionally, studies show that the retention rate for intern hires is much higher, thus decreasing overall companies’ turnover rates. When the individual understands what is expected of them and the company culture, they are more likely to be satisfied and committed to your organisation.

2. It will attract emerging talent

Another reason to recruit interns is the visibility it gives your company on the market. Becoming a company that graduates flock to will only happen if you welcome new talent. When you hire interns, it’s likely that your brand recognition will also grow through word of mouth. If you set up partnerships with colleges and universities, you’ll also likely benefit from a growing talent pool from which you can pick the ideal candidates.

Moreover, by hiring young talent, your company will reap the benefits of having a workforce with the latest industry knowledge and in-demand skills. The feedback and ideas that you can generate with your interns will help your company grow in many different directions and stay relevant within its industry. Considering the new technological and social media skills that many young professionals possess, your company will attain new, innovative perspectives of the market.

3. It’s a mentoring opportunity for your employees 

During an internship, the intern is expected to be supervised and taught by a specific person. This individual can either be a manager or a senior employee. Throughout the intern’s contract, the mentor’s aim is to offer guidance, allocate tasks and help interns get a taste of the company’s processes. 

The mentor must evaluate and assess the intern and dedicate time to share their wisdom and industry knowledge. By doing this, your employees also benefit by gaining essential leadership and managerial skills that will likely help them grow both professionally and personally within your company.

4. It saves costs

Profit is often the primary goal for most businesses. This means that a business will always look for options that can cut costs where necessary. Luckily, internships are one of the most inexpensive recruitment options. 

If you value your company, looking for cheap labour won’t give you the upper hand. However, it will certainly be more cost-effective to hire interns as opposed to experienced professionals with higher salary expectations.

5. You have an enthusiastic workforce 

Interns usually take on tasks that do not require experience and expertise to complete. This means that your company can save time and money by recruiting an intern who will be happy to meet the job’s demands, even if some of these demands are more repetitive and simplistic. 

Although it is important to provide your interns with structured training and a range of responsibilities, they can also help out with more basic duties that other employees might not find rewarding.

Usually, interns are very keen to learn and are willing to take on even the most mundane tasks as this can help them to develop professionally. Hiring interns with these positive qualities and a proactive attitude makes them valuable to any company.

Ways to recruit an intern

Hiring interns isn’t the same recruitment process as for more qualified candidates. Naturally, individuals with experience have their tried-and-true resources for finding a job. However, students and recent graduates rely on different methods to hunt for work. This is why it’s vital to establish a clear outreach strategy that will allow you to advertise and promote your company’s internship opportunities.

1. Job and internship sites

Nowadays, the web is the go-to place for finding job vacancies, whether it’s for full-time, permanent employment or an internship, online recruitment should be your first thought.

Some of the most popular job boards have internship and entry-level sections. By posting your internship vacancies and your company information to these sites, you can attract many suitable applicants. However, make sure to include application requirements within your listing so that you can engage the right people.

2. Social media

Social media is becoming the principal way to attract jobseekers, especially among younger generations. Social media recruitment requires a different approach than conventional recruitment strategies, so if you’re not yet up to scratch, you’ll need to do some training. But once you’re familiar with LinkedIn and Facebook advertising, you’ll be ready to promote your new internship roles directly to your target audience.

3. Referrals

Having contacts and networking are extremely important in the professional world and can be just as effective for companies looking for the right intern. To introduce a referral system, talk to your workforce and reach out to past interns. They’ll likely know someone who they can refer to your company for your internship programme.

4. Universities

Universities, colleges and trade schools have various resources available for their students to help them find internships. For instance, some academic institutions form partnerships with corporate organisations to create internship opportunities for their students. 

Your company could reach out to a few colleges and universities and offer a certain number of internship positions exclusively to their students each year. This will grant you a long list of candidates who are ready and willing to intern for you when the recruitment period starts.

Additionally, universities usually host recruiting events on campus and trade fairs where you can promote your internship opportunities in person.

5. College career centres

Some colleges have career centres where students can go to get career advice and seek out work opportunities. Often, they also have a dedicated career webpage or mailing list. 

These pages work in a similar way to job boards but are specifically designed and run by the university for their students and alumni.

Suppose you would like to promote your internship positions through college career centres. In that case, you should get in touch with the college’s career centre or reach out to a specific university faculty or department.

How to recruit interns

Given the nature of internships and the fact that most interns will have little to no working experience, it is crucial to establish a solid recruiting process.

1. Plan your recruitment strategy

Hiring for different positions often warrants distinct techniques or processes; this is also the case for hiring interns. 

Having an organised intern recruitment strategy is vital; you should understand what is required by the company and what it is willing to offer its recruits. This action plan should also set out logistics like where the individual will work, who will oversee them and which general tasks they will be expected to carry out. 

2. Create a candidate profile

Once you have established a basic plan, you will need to discuss what type of candidates you’re looking for with management. This will help you create a detailed candidate profile that should be used when advertising the role.

Most interns are either still students or recent graduates, and it can be tempting to judge a person’s ability entirely based on their grades. However, it is wise to emphasise the skills, traits, and interests that the ideal candidate should possess, rather than just their marks. Although a certain level of academic ability is formidable, don’t judge your applicants only on that. 

3. Adapt the interview process

Interviews are essential when selecting the right candidate for any role. However, it’s crucial to adjust this process when dealing with inexperienced candidates. 

Given that for many prospective interns, this might be their first interview invitation, it is in everyone’s best interest to allow some leniency during interviews. Interview nerves can overshadow someone’s capabilities and enthusiasm, which could mean that neither the candidate nor the employer can get the most out of the interview. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that the interview takes the shape of a conversation and not an interrogation.

As internship candidate may not have as much experience to discuss, another way to understand their abilities is by testing them. These tests don’t need to be complicated, but they should be tailored to the role that the intern will be fulfilling. As students are quite accustomed to being tested, they should be able to demonstrate their abilities well through this method.

4. Ask the right questions

Although we’ve highlighted many differences between the recruitment of an intern and a full-time employee, the ultimate goal for both is to find someone who fits the profile. So, during the interview, aim to ask relevant questions that will help you find out information that is pertinent to the role.

In the case of interns, many will not have much work experience, if any, and won’t be able to give many examples of previous training. However, as students and recent graduates, prospective interns would have likely participated in a range of extracurricular activities and will have an academic record they can discuss. These topics, along with their interests, will help you understand their objectives and career goals.

5. Keep internship candidates informed

Throughout the hiring process, it’s vital to keep candidates informed. For instance, establish what is required of prospective interns and enclose details such as pay and employee benefits. Interns are an asset to your business, so it is still important to promote your company values to them throughout the recruitment process.

Additionally, you must offer clear information regarding your recruitment timeline and procedure. The more information you can supply, the smoother the whole process will be for your candidates.

How to build a successful internship programme

An effective internship programme needs to be organised, well-structured and provide genuine learning opportunities. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when building your internship programme:

1. Offer paid internships 

Offering unpaid internships could send the wrong message about your company. If you’re interested in reaping the benefits of having an internship programme, it’s well worth providing a fair wage to your interns. 

This shows that your company values its interns and their contributions just as much as any other employee. They may be gaining valuable career skills and experience from your company, but they are also offering their time and expending effort to you, which should be compensated.

That said, make sure to check local legislation on unpaid internships if that is the route you decide to take.

2. Consider the company’s objectives for its interns

Before taking interns on board, your company should set out its priorities and define its objectives for its new recruits. This includes establishing a candidate profile, a structured internship scheme and a timeline. Often, internship programmes are aligned with school semesters. 

You should also think about what is expected of your interns, the goals your company wishes to set for them and what kind of learning experience you’re prepared to offer them.

3. Develop a detailed internship scheme

Once you’ve laid the foundations for your internship programme, it is time to work out some details. You will need to define the mentoring project by deciding who, how and when.

Determine the knowledge and skills your potential interns could learn and focus on engaging your existing staff and the interns to make the most of the programme.

If you’re part of a small company and plan on hiring just one or two interns, you could think about personalising each internship based on their skill sets. This way, both the interns and the company can aim to get as much out of the experience as possible, concentrating on their combined goals.

4. Check regulations

Another important factor to consider when building an internship programme is legal compliance. Make sure that your company is in line with regional and national legislations before hiring any interns. 

You should especially look out for laws on the hours an intern can work, age restrictions and salary entitlements. Additionally, depending on your industry, you may need to address insurance concerns and offer health and safety training to your interns.

5. Offer feedback

Feedback is paramount for any internship programme. Supervisors must assess their interns but also ask for feedback from the interns too. 

Learning what works and what doesn’t within your programme will allow you to adapt and upgrade when necessary and make necessary modifications for your next rota of interns.

Final thoughts

With all these guaranteed advantages, it’s no wonder that so many companies are striving to create renowned internship opportunities for the workforce of tomorrow. 

To build a successful internship scheme, you must ensure that training and development are central to your strategy. By investing in new talent, you are also helping your existing workforce to grow and broaden their skills, allowing you to remain on top of competition within your industry.

For further reading, make sure to check out our HR & Recruitment advice section!

Does your company have an internship programme? Do you have any other useful intern recruitment tips? Share them with us in the comments section below!