One of the most important parts of running an internship program is spreading the word among potential applicants. But if you’re just starting an internship program, it can be hard to know which applicant sources to prioritize. For the past few years, we’ve been trying different sources, comparing the results (by tracking the data), and slowly building a list of our preferred sources. Here’s where we find our intern applicants:
1. Through Company Culture and Full-Timers
Our best applicants find us via what I call “Viget stuff.” “Viget stuff” includes anything and everything produced by our full-time staff. It spans our work and our company culture—things like blog posts, staff attending and speaking at conferences, staff participating in local Meetups and other professional groups, and, of course, the work we launch all year round. The best applicants aren’t looking at listings—they’re scoping out the industry as a whole, checking out companies and their cultures, and trying to connect with the makers they admire (not recruiters). That holds true for top internship applicants as well as for top full-time applicants.
You could argue that “company culture” shouldn’t be on this list because it’s not a quick and easy source for kicking off your recruiting season. But I’d argue that it belongs at the very top of any source list. A few actionable items to help foster that type of culture are:
- encourage full-timers to attend and speak at their alma maters and any networking events that might attract students
- alert full-timers that recruiting season has begun and ask for referrals
- coordinate with your marketing team to tweet/post/etc via your company's social channels
- talk to full-timers who may be able to post your internship listings to professional organizations (usually for free if they’re members)
- foster a culture of learning and sharing (example: offer a conference stipend) so that ambitious students become aware of your staff as leaders in their fields
- produce your own internship and recruiting-related "stuff" that you can share with potential applicants (students love blog posts that offer advice)
2. Intern Alumni
Viget has always had interns, and Summer 2015 will mark our fourth year running a ten-week summer program. That means we’ve been able to foster an alumni network over the years. We currently have 35 intern alumni in our network. We stay in touch with them throughout the year, invidually and through a Google Group. Every fall, we make a point of sharing our internship roles for the following summer. That’s because no one is a stronger advocate for our program than those who have experienced it, and many of our strongest applicants have come to us by way of intern alumni. Intern alumni are able to:
- connect you to current or former classmates who may be good interns
- connect you to current or former professors who may share your info with talented students
- spread the word about your program casually among friends and peers
- connect you to relevant student groups (oftentimes hard to access directly via university and college websites)
If you’re just starting an internship program, you may not have intern alumni to connect with. But I’m putting this source high on this list anyway, as a way of indicating that, ultimately, this is one of your most promising sources. Your goal should be to foster this network and turn to it once recruiting season arrives.
3. Previous Applicants
Every year, we hear from promising applicants who don’t quite make the cut. Oftentimes, they’re still too early in their college careers to have developed the stronger skills of upperclassmen, but we nonetheless see a lot of potential. I make a note of such applicants, and they’re among the first people I reach out to during the following recruiting season. They may have Viget in mind but they haven’t gotten to the point of reapplying yet. All they need is a reminder or a little encouragement, so I send a friendly email inviting them to reapply. In many cases, I have that top re-applicant in my pipeline within a few days.
4. InternMatch/LookSharp—and/or/with your own online presence
For the past three summers, the majority of our applicants have come to us via InternMatch, now called LookSharp—and, every summer, at least one of them has made the cut and joined our program. There are a few other internship sites out there, but LookSharp is by far the most popular and effective for both students and employers. It’s worth giving a try, especially since your first ten internship postings are free.
What has impressed me over the years about InternMatch/LookSharp is their understanding that more and more interns are conducting their internship searches online, as opposed to via conventional college career fairs and counselors. That may seem obvious to members of the tech industry, but it’s a phenomenon that colleges and other industries have been slow to notice. Besides InternMatch/LookSharp, most students find us simply by running their own google searches. We’re proud to have our own internship page turning up in all those google searches, but not every company has the resources to create their own internship web presence. If that’s the case for you, then InternMatch/LookSharp offers a simple way to set up a branded company profile through their site.
Many professors are interested in hearing from companies about great job or internship opportunities, especially if former students work there. When a professor sends a student my way, I know he or she has already performed a first-order “screening” by judging that student’s work throughout at least one semester. If a professor agrees to share a listing more widely via email, I know that students are more likely to pay attention than if that same email comes via a university admin from the career services center.
All that said, it’s critical to approach professors with care and consideration. Like most of us, they don’t want to be spammed by strangers; often, they’re also committed to protecting their students from the influences of outside companies and don’t want to be involved in promotion efforts. It’s important to choose professors whose teaching and other activities suggest they might be receptive. Ideally, you’ll have a former student put you in touch. Here are a couple ways to start building relationships with professors:
- Ask your current staff to connect you to their favorite former professors, especially your co-workers who are still just a few years out of school
- Peruse the faculty listings on university department websites and send an email to those professors who teach the most relevant courses and seem involved in student activities, clubs, or professional development.
- These emails need to be brief, thoughtfully-researched, and well-written. It’s worth the time and effort to connect with one or two of the right professors. Don’t attempt to connect with many through a generic template.
6. College Portals/Sites
Each university maintains its own internal job/internship board for employers to post internship and job listings. These sites are run by campus career centers and, although they seem outdated by our industry’s standards, many students still turn to them. Each year, one of our interns finds us via their college job site or portal. A few tips:
- Identify which colleges/universities to target. Should you target local and regional schools? Schools with top programs in relevant fields? We tend to target a combination of these two.
- Be highly selective. Because these sites are painful to navigate, they become an unexpected time drain.
- University Career Action Network is a portal that allows you to post to twenty schools all at once. Use it.
College career fairs have long served as the cornerstone of the conventional internship recruiting strategy. But a recent survey of 9,000 students by InternMatch showed that only 3.2% of them found 2014 internships via a career fair. Career fairs are expensive, a ton of work, and dominated by large corporations; they’re not usually the best choice for small to mid-size companies. I’ve found a career fair may still be worth considering if:
- it’s local to one of our office locations
- a relevant co-worker, ideally an alum of the target school, is available to join me at the fair. Never go alone as a recruiter—students prefer to talk to a couple different reps (and, also, you will lose your voice).
- it’s relatively small and targeting a very specific subset of the student population
As college career fairs fade in relevance to our industry, tech-led events have cropped up as alternatives. Under The Big Top is a “reverse job fair” local to our Durham office that invites a handful of companies to present to job seekers, rather than vice versa. Uncubed is another example, holding tech job fairs in major cities around the country. While such events are geared towards full-time roles, it’s worth keeping tabs on these events with an eye to internship recruiting as well.
BONUS: The Trello Board To Get You Started
There you have it—seven ways to source top internship applicants, some short-term and some more long-term. You may be thinking: how will I keep all this info straight? Keeping track of your sources is certainly a challenge, especially as you build up new contacts over time. So I’ve set up this public Trello board template to get you started. As you’ll see, I use a checklist on each card to list and track whom I’ll contact, where I’ll post, and other to-dos. Just copy the board, rename it to reflect the internship role you’re working on, and edit it to suit your specific needs.
Enjoy and good luck! If you have any other sources you’d add to this list, let me know in the comments below.