Internship to mentorship – setting your interns up for success


According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the conversion rate from internship to full-time hire is 56.1% which could be viewed rather positively.

The picture improves further when looking at the fact that the one-year retention rate for intern hires with internal experience is 71.4% (and 59.0% for those with external internship experience), also according to NACE.

This is particularly encouraging when considering that, generally speaking, turnover is known to be high within the first year of a new job. In fact, according to Work Institute’s 2018 Retention Report, first-year turnover recently reached the highest point in eight years, with 40% of all turnover in 2017 attributed to employees leaving their jobs in the first 12 months.

Essentially, if employees aren’t happy at your company (and they pick that up rather quickly), they’ll move on elsewhere. As the latter stats reveal, the first couple of months will either make or break new employees’ success, productivity and performance at your company – and, of course, you ultimately want to ensure that they make it, whether they’re an experienced employee or an intern.

The importance of a retention strategy

That’s where the importance of a retention strategy comes into play. And while it seems, based on NACE’s stats, that the majority of internships that turn into full-time employee roles tend to stick around for at least the first year on the job, there’s no guarantee that this will be the case or that your hires will choose to stay at your company beyond that point.

A well-thought-out retention strategy, supported by the right tools, will however decrease the odds of them leaving.

Since interns usually have little to no work experience, they will likely need some extra attention when it comes to the onboarding process and integration processes, helping them quickly become part of the fiber of your organization.

Before we dive into some tips on setting your interns up for success at your organization, let’s take a brief look at why an internship has the potential to add value to your workplace.

Why a good internship program adds great value to your business

As we discussed previously, today’s interns are tomorrow’s leaders. They bring new ideas and a fresh vibe to your organization. Plus, their higher-than-average retention helps build a more connected and collaborative culture, and will additionally benefit your organization financially.

Unfortunately, interns are often left to do only menial tasks, the grunt work, that no one else wants to do, and can really be overlooked or undervalued. This is a mistake that doesn’t reflect well on your company’s culture and might even cost you a valuable, full-time employee down the line.

Planting the seeds for future success

So, how can you set your interns on the right track, show them that you value their contribution and help them transition into a full-time employee at your organization? Beyond that, how can you nurture them into a high performer, and continue supporting their growth into a seasoned professional with the potential to mentor others?

As you can tell, it’s a journey – and as we alluded to earlier, the process begins before the onboarding process. It starts during the internship stage.

1. Nurture the talent that internship possess

Don’t assume that interns will only be there short term and won’t have much to bring to the table – we all started somewhere and you might be surprised at how much fresh perspective, skill and valuable input interns can put forward, and how willing they are to learn and contribute. Give them tasks that will help them grow, learn and showcase their potential.

Pair them up with a mentor and ensure that you invest time in providing feedback regularly, helping them course correct where needed and achieve the goals they’ve set out to. Allowing them to take on meaningful tasks will also give them the opportunity to understand whether they’d want their career to take a particular route and whether they’d want to become a part of your company in a full-time position.

2. Onboard and integrate new employees effectively

Once an intern has accepted a full-time post, they will need to be guided through a period of onboarding and integration. While this employee will have the advantage of having learnt the ropes to some degree during their internship, they will still need to learn what is expected of them in their full-time post, who to turn to for support and where to find the resources they need to complete their tasks effectively.

Since this employee might be relatively new to the work world, they will likely need training in various domains (company-specific tools and technology, systems, processes, etc.) to get up to speed as efficiently as possible. Remember, it usually takes a minimum of six months for a new-hire integration plan to roll out effectively.

Read more about a well-planned integration strategy here: Does your new hire integration checklist include these 7 things?

3. Help these employees define a career map

A great way of showing a new employee that you plan to invest in them for the long run is by helping them draw up a career map and to identify how they could reach their goals within your organization.

As part of the process, you could ask them to conduct a SWOT analysis on themselves. Talk to them about their ‘dream career’ and use their SWOT analysis along with your team KPIs to draw up a career map that works for them and your company. You could start with a five-year plan, and work backwards to three-year and one-year goals.

Once you’ve clarified a few short-term goals, help your employee to think about the projects, tasks and learning opportunities they would need to complete in order to reach them. You can use these to create quarterly action plans. To find out more, read our article: How to create a career plan for your employees.

4. Continue opening the door to learning opportunities

We’ve previously pointed to the fact that modern employees desire the opportunity to advance, learn and develop new skills. This is quite likely top of mind for employees who have just stepped out of an internship role into a full-time position. They’ve had a taste of what interests them, what they’re good at and where they’ll need to close gaps to reach the goals they’ve identified as part of their career mapping exercise.

But, as you know, learning is really an ongoing process. We continue learning throughout the span of our careers, and with the rise of new technologies, it’s even more critical to continually refine our skills to stay in step with the trends that affect our professions.

Microlearning is a great way to upskill your people and to deliver skills, compliance and behavioral training. Learn more about this effective way of creating a platform for training and career development, on an ongoing basis: Here’s how to create a culture of continuous learning.

5. Create an inclusive culture that employees want to be part of

Building on the previous points, it’s essential to continuously pay attention to your company culture. People, regardless of whether they’re an intern, a new hire or a long-standing employee, want to know that they’re part of something good; that they belong to an organization that values inclusion and collaborative work and that ensures that employees are well integrated and connected.

They want to know that they’ll have the opportunity to grow, learn and advance. One way to join these dots is through ongoing mentorships. Building this strategy into your culture allows employees to quickly feel connected, to learn from other employees and to eventually have the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way themselves by mentoring others.

Another way to encourage a sense of belonging and to nurture confidence in employees, which also links to company culture, is by keeping the channels of communication open through real-time feedback, which takes place on an ongoing basis, as things happen.

Of course, employees also expect a level of autonomy and the opportunity to innovate, share their creative ideas and continue refining their skills. This can be achieved by implementing an internal gig platform, where employees can choose to take on additional projects with other teams or departments, expanding both their connections and their horizons. Here’s some great reading on this platform: Gig economy – threat or opportunity?

Support your people, from interns to mentors, with the right tools

We support you throughout the journey, from equipping your interns with tasks that will allow them to grow, to integrating new hires, and ensuring their ongoing growth and success at your organization. Learn more about our technology that will help you nurture your interns into mentors.

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