Are you leveraging your internship program as a pipeline for full-time employees?
Research shows that former interns have a higher retention rate (71.4%) than other full-time employees. In fact, according to the 2021 Internship & Co-Op Survey Report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), internal interns are 16% more likely to be retained by their employer than colleagues who completed an internship elsewhere. This trajectory continues past the five-year mark, where former internal interns are 9% more likely to be retained, compared to their counterparts.
TL;DR, your internship program can produce some of the most loyal employees at your company. Therefore, if you are not paying attention to (and working to approve upon) your intern-to-full-time-employee (intern-to-FTE) conversion rate, you are doing yourself — and your company — a disservice.
Recently, Scholars co-founder Parker Pell sat down with Jennifer Newbill of Dell Technologies and Kathy Schaum of KPMG to speak about recent shifts seen in their intern-to-FTE conversion rates. As two early-career recruiting experts with a combined 40 years of experience, they offered insights on how to improve your intern retention rate while reducing reneges in today’s volatile hiring market. In addition, they offer tips on how to offer mentorship, networking, and professional development opportunities to attract and retain top early-career talent.
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6 Tips to Boost Your Intern-to-FTE Conversion Rate
Between their two respective internship programs, KPMG and Dell Technologies hire roughly 10,000 students each year in North America alone. Both companies leverage their internship programs as a pipeline for full-time employment, with Jennifer seeing a 50% intern-to-FTE conversion rate at Dell, and Kathy reporting a 90% offer rate at KPMG.
Both university recruiting experts witnessed dips in their acceptance rate over the past two years, while seeing a slight spike in reneges (hovering around 4-5%). With today’s graduating seniors faced with additional, competing offers, Jennifer and Kathy encourage recruiters to make the following adjustments to their internship programs:
1. Start Recruiting Early
“Three or four years ago, we started tracking everything,” says Jennifer. “We weren’t really tracking our intern-to-intern conversion rate, and once we did, we thought, ‘wow, that’s pretty high.’” Those metrics ultimately led Dell Technologies to start recruiting freshmen and sophomores (versus strictly juniors and seniors), allowing them to 1) capture a wider pool of talent and 2) stay top-of-mind with students throughout their candidate journey.
Today, Dell boasts an intern-to-intern conversion rate between 70-80%. Students find themselves returning to the internship program on back-to-back years, allowing them to explore different departments within the company. “I’ve heard of people going from supply chain one summer to finance [the next],” says Jennifer, giving interns the opportunity to see which roles best reflect their strengths, interests, and unique skill set.
2. Stay Flexible
“Students really want companies to be flexible with them,” says Jennifer. To attract top early-career talent in 2022, companies need to understand that not every student wants to be a full-time, onsite intern. Current students are playing a delicate balancing act between summer classes, travel plans, and other conflicts, and therefore might be more attracted to a part-time role.
The solution? Create a “menu” of internship programs, offering both full-time and part-time positions within onsite, virtual, and hybrid work environments. In addition, consider offering internship programs throughout the fall or spring semesters — versus strictly the summer months — to best accommodate students’ schedules.
3. Provide Ample Networking Opportunities
Today’s early-career top talent wants to make meaningful connections at work. And frankly, those connections should be made at every level of seniority — from current interns to the executive team.
Kathy and Jennifer were quick to remind recruiters that networking can take place in both professional, structured environments and more relaxed settings. For example, provide interns with opportunities to present their projects to the SVP of their department at the end of the summer term. Or, encourage executives to host a coffee chat or meet-and-greet with the current cohort. At the same time, mix a bit of fun into your program, arranging mixers, happy hours, Friday trivia nights, talent shows, or other social outings for your current interns.
4. Create an Effective Mentorship Program
An 8-12 week program is a short timeframe to onboard, train, and expect each intern to complete (and present) a final project. To set each intern up for success during this expedited timeline, pair each intern with a mentor.
“For us, we have two roles [for mentors],” says Kathy. “One we call the performance manager, and the other is their buddy.” The performance manager is there to set expectations and objectives while measuring output. The “buddy” is a former intern there to provide additional guidance. As someone who understands first-hand the challenges, adjustments, and transitions involved with the role, they help alleviate career anxiety with your current cohort.
Another idea? Consider creating a recent grad panel where former interns discuss their education, experience, and background. Invite them to share their story in transitioning to the corporate world, creating a comfortable environment for current interns to ask questions to people who went through the same program.
5. Create Feedback Loops With Your Intern Cohort
To continuously improve your intern-to-FTE conversion rate, implement feedback loops with your current interns.
“This generation wants to be heard,” says Jennifer. Therefore, launch surveys, focus groups, and check-ins to gather data and anecdotal feedback regarding your program. At a minimum, Kathy and Jennifer suggest checking in with each intern three times throughout the program — during their first week, at the midway point, and after submitting their final project.
Capturing feedback provides two benefits. One, it allows you to fill gaps in your program, and ultimately enhance your employer brand. Two, it provides cold, hard data to gain executive buy-in to invest in and make improvements to your program over time.
6. Offer a Well-Rounded, Complete Experience
Ensuring each intern has a positive experience at your company doesn’t just boost your intern-to-FTE conversion rate — it ensures former interns praise your employer brand when they return to campus. This, in turn, gives you the clout needed to recruit top talent in the future.
“We look at three aspects,” remarks Kathy. “One of course being the work experience — what are they doing each day, and how do they feel challenged?” The other two aspects encompass networking and professional development opportunities. Overall, your interns shouldn’t just be completing day-to-day tasks. Instead, they should complete the program feeling as though they learned and grew as a professional, which will benefit their career in the long run.
Leverage Scholars to Improve Your Intern-to-FTE Conversion Rate
Your internship program is a pipeline for top talent. To improve your internship-to-FTE conversion rate, reduce reneges, and improve your employee retention rate, you need to take a hard look at your internship program.
A successful internship program produces networking and mentorship opportunities, collects feedback, and offers a flexible working environment. To perform all of the above, be sure to leverage the Scholars platform.
Scholars brings a level of humanity back to the recruiting sector by building personalized candidate journeys at scale. Built by Gen Z, for Gen Z, Scholars is the proven way to help attract and retain top early-career talent.
Ready to see how Scholars can help boost your intern-to-FTE conversion rate? Schedule a free demo to get started.