How to Best Design and Manage Summer Internship Programs for Strengthening your Employer Brand – Part 1

Part 1 – What Companies must do to design and make internships more valuable:

April/May is the season of summer internships in India. Most first year MBA students are on their eight weeks of summer internships – doing projects in companies. These eight weeks are by far the most important eight weeks for many first year MBA students in India. For the past 20 years or so, I have observed and found that – for first year MBA students this is the first big test of their potential and capability. For companies in India this is one of their biggest employer brand strength test of the year, a test of their brands ability to attract top-notch talent from the MBA schools.

The run-up to this internship season begins some times in September/October every year and during this time, most MBA schools and their student placement committees go all out to invite top employers to come and select their students for internships. Almost every MBA student aspires and makes efforts to get selected for an internship in their dream companies, which are most often the top employer brands of India. Every company aspires and goes all out to select the best students for internships. It is indeed very competitive on all fronts and the competition continues to intensify with each passing year – and the ocean of competition is more red then ever. In my opinion companies can do a lot to build strong employer brands by leveraging this opportunity. Not easy and not many get their summer internship programs right. Average or bad internship programs leave many students disillusioned and I have seen employer brands getting eroded due to this. So what must companies, students and MBA schools (the three key stake holders) do to create a blue ocean and ensure that the young and aspiring MBA talent of India is best engaged and developed and everyone benefits from this process. I am writing this blog in three parts; first part is on what companies must do and second and third parts will be on what students and MBA schools must do, respectively.

In my opinion the companies must do the following:

  1. The internship program should be aimed at attracting MBA talent in the form of interns, assessing them (whilst they are interning) then selecting them and offering them challenging roles in your organization. The program should be your company’s important strategic initiative of acquiring talent and building your talent pipeline. This program has to be one of the top Strategic Talent Acquisition initiatives of the company and it should have total top management commitment and sponsorship.
  2. Design and execute robust internship programs, which are aimed at giving the student a rich professional experience. Majority of MBA students In India are fresh and don’t have much prior work experience. Hence this is their first stint or professional work experience in the corporate world. Therefore, whilst designing the program bear their aspirations, background and experience in mind. Ensure that projects are designed and detailed even before you go to the campuses for recruiting interns. Projects should be real, live and aligned to the strategic plans of your company. Each project should be very dear and near to the top management of the company. Organizations end in mind regarding the project should be to get advice, inputs and fresh perspectives on a strategic business challenge/issue. Whilst doing the project the student should be able learn and gain knowledge in the area and function of that project. Projects should ideally be from areas and functions where you plan to attract and recruit talent
  3. Interview and select students for the projects. Short list students based on your project requirements and match your projects to the students learning aspirations. As soon as you have made the selection and if the student signs up – share the project details and begin to engage them. This makes them feel valued and they appreciate and see the professional depth of your company. With the advent of technology it’s possible to engage students with their guides and managers. Many students when informed about their projects in advance do lots of good ground work and it helps them hit the ground running. But make sure you don’t overwhelm them and allow them to focus on their studies and school activities.
  4. Design and execute a top-class induction and orientation plan for the interns during their first week. This is their first experience on the ground of your organization and it has to be absolutely delightful. Logistics and on-boarding support system for the interns in your organization should be top class. Ensure that all issues such as accommodation for those eight weeks, IT support, workplace details etc are sorted out well and on time and on day 1 the intern is not grappling with it and instead is focused on learning. Not an easy task but when planned in detail it’s possible. Having a buddy (preferably an employees who is close or similar to the interns profile) assigned to every intern is a very powerful support step throughout the internship program.
  5. Ensure there is a good formal and informal review mechanism in place to assess how the intern is doing and if they need any extra support. The guide/manager should be totally committed to their intern’s success and should make time to guide them and mentor them. The final presentation of the interns should be treated like a celebration of success rather than a report out. Senior management of the company should participate in this celebration whole heatedly and learn from the interns report out and give them constructive and objective feedback.
  6. Make decisions to offer Pre-placement-interviews (PPIs) or Pre-placement-offers (PPOs) and communicate the same within a month to the college and students as appropriate. Students who don’t land-up with an offer and if they want more feedback on why they didn’t make it – makes sure that the project guide and the HR Manager should provide them that feedback. Always remember that, your interns are your company’s ambassadors for life. So it’s up to you, to create good ambassadors for your company who will always promote your brand or you will land up with detractors of your brand.

In conclusion, I say, designing and executing a top-notch internship program is your company’s big opportunity for strengthening your employer brand and the health and depth of your talent pipeline. Make sure that you invest well and commit fully towards it – if not then best is to not have an internship program in your company, because it’s like a double edged sword and it can also erode the equity of your employer brand.

In all my working years as an HR leader of an organization – I have personally designed and closely supervised these programs and have put my best people to manage them and it has always paid back. Part 2 and 3 will be posted soon. Please read and leave your comments and views.

8 thoughts on “How to Best Design and Manage Summer Internship Programs for Strengthening your Employer Brand – Part 1

  1. Yash – You have raised 2 important points : Identification of projects well in advance & mid-term review for interns.
    Most Organizations today initiate process of identifying projects for interns post their onboarding resulting in not only non-strategic and sub- standard projects but also fail to test the true potential of the interns. Thereby, Organizations lose a valuable opportunity in judging the potential of interns who can be prospective employees.
    Mid-term review of the interns is an absolute must for a course correction. Guides, should be able to devote as much time & effort on interns as they do for their regular employees.

  2. Thanks Yash for capturing the essence of a successful internship program!

    The internship program at Philips is built around these very foundations. From exciting and live projects, top management buy-in, sharing of detailed project charters well before commencement of the internships, detailed induction, guides, buddies and mentors for each intern, access to leadership, project implementation, mid-reviews, final review with senior management team, strong PPO policy et al. The summer internship program at Philips capturs it all!

    Thank you Yash for guiding us in building this fundamentally strong talent acquisition initiative. The reviews from interns over the last two years and the overwhelming response to Philips on campuses today stands testimony to the success of this program.

    Inviting the current and previous batch of interns at Philips to share their experience..

  3. When I did my summers I valued:

    1. The fact that I was working on a “real” project that had implications for the company
    2. Interaction I had with the senior leaders of the organization
    3.Coming back the next year and discovering that the project I had done had resulted in real process changes in the company

  4. Thanks Yash for capturing very nicely the foundation of building a great Summer Internship Program. Completely agree with your statement on interns being a company’s ambassador for life. A bad experience can cause more damage than most orgs/guides perceive. A well designed program and project not only helps the learning of the intern but can also immensely benefit an organization through fresh inputs that the interns bring in. I have friends whose projects and ideas have gone on to becoming national multi-million dollar businesses for the organizations that they worked for. All in all, this pipeline of bringing in talent is essential to building long term talent within the company and staying relevant as an employer for each generation.

  5. Having been on both sides, i.e. as an Intern who underwent a very robust Summer Internship program to then being on the other side as the facilitator of the Summer Internship program for a couple of the Top 20 Companies, I resonate with most of the points you have mentioned in your blog, Yash. With a focus on What Companies Must do to create an outstanding Summer Internship experience, I would say companies can get better at it each and every year. Companies can get creative and innovate every year to design their Summer Internship and ensure that it is a high-touch, high-impact program for both – the organisation & the students. The Interns typically come in for their internship with a lot of excitement, apprehensions and a strong desire to prove themselves in a corporate working environment. Interns tend to keenly observe the organisation, its culture, its leaders, they are constantly sharing notes, seeking out for guidance, are competitive with a strong desire to win and looking forward to their internship in a company they aspire to be a part of someday. Companies have a huge opportunity & responsibility to make this an unforgettable experience for their interns.
    For instance Philips ensure that it’s Summer Internship Program is well planned end-to-end. From identifying live-challenging projects, engaging with the interns, On-boarding them & helping them settle in, encouraging them to take ownership to drive their projects, de-briefing Project Guides/Mentors & Buddies, scheduling robust performance based internship reviews, feedback sessions, ensuring exposure to leadership & an overall learning experience for all our interns. The positive response & feedback at the end of the internship, from the Interns & the Leaders at Philips says it all. Good Luck to all MBA Interns in 2013.

  6. Hi Yash. Nice blog ! I have found that the biggest complaints from summer trainees are a lack of involvement from and interaction with the guide and “randomness” (in their lingo) of the project. Are guides evaluated on the quality of the project –how specific and focussed was it, how “real” and relevant was it , what learning was there for the trainee etc.. I too suspect that in many companies projects are conceived last minute and the number of trainees recruited exceeds the number of authentic projects.

  7. Hi Yash, I started my career in the company where I did my internship. Found it extremely helpful to have that solid base before starting my journey in the organization.. Completely agree with Point # 1.
    Project Selection is a very important step because thats where the interns need guidance and have limited expertise.

  8. as in intern the writer has captured the essence of what a aspiring intern wants and desires in their first ever job experience however if bachelor students had been mentioned too then it would have been a complete article…

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