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Recruiting Experts Answer Your Top Internship Program Questions

Recently, Untapped compiled a list of the Top Internship Programs of 2022 in order to help students find the best opportunities to meet their needs, as well as recognize companies that have adopted innovative approaches to providing hands-on experience to their interns and high-quality intern development. During the selection process, we looked at four criteria of the internship programs we considered: commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB); equitable and competitive compensation; opportunity for full-time employment and advancement; and professional development, training, and mentorship.  

After we selected the Top Internships Programs of 2022, we hosted a webinar featuring emerging talent and recruiting experts from the top list to share their secrets for building a top-notch internship program. 

The four panelists included:

  • Renee Davis, University Recruiting Manager at Duolingo
  • Katelyn Amidon, Head of Early Talent Programs at Lyft 
  • Kate Dey, Director of Global University Recruiting and Programs at DocuSign
  • Jacob Sintich, Recruiting Specialist at Sonoco

During the event, moderated by our Co-Founder and Co-CEO Adam Gefkovicz, we asked the panel a series of questions suggested by attendees, which resulted in a lively discussion that covered everything from how the economic downturn is going to impact companies’ early career programs to strategies for handling virtual internships. The following are some of the insights the panel offered. 

Leveraging Hybrid Recruiting

COVID-19 forced companies to change the way they handled recruitment, however, now that lockdowns are behind us and colleges are wide open, the virtual model is not going anywhere—at least not entirely. Many companies are now adopting a hybrid model of recruitment that combines the traditional with the virtual, and Katelyn says that Lyft has found the approach to be a handy way to conduct university recruiting in a post-COVID climate that has served up a challenging economy.

“We did some research with a consulting firm that said out of all the sectors they surveyed, almost 90 percent of employers who have university programs are looking to do a hybrid model. I see it as the best of both worlds. I think we’re in this space where we’ve seen what works in-person, we've seen what works virtually, and now we get to pick and choose between both,” she said. “We're really excited for that and something we are thinking through is how we still have really meaningful in-person interactions with only four recruiters at 20 plus universities that we're maintaining or establishing relationships with.”

In order to come up with a solution to this challenge, Katelyn says the organization is really examining how it targets and prioritizes the schools recruiters engage with. 

“A lot of that will be figuring out what the core priority of going to a school is,” Katelyn explained. “We're kind of going through this thought method of, ‘Do we want to do on campus interviews because it will be meaningful for the students to have that in-person interaction versus a school that maybe has more access to virtual events or programming?’ I think the approach has to be very different and intentional at each university we're selecting.” 

Leveraging Communication and Connection

Although it wasn’t possible to have interns work in the office during the height of the pandemic, Kate says DocuSign was still able to give interns meaningful experiences from a distance. The key was in the communication the company had with students, who were initially concerned about the quality of any internship they participated in under the unusual circumstances. 

“I will say what allowed us to be incredibly successful, and I joke about it, is that we over communicated until they begged us to stop communicating,” said Kate. “Many of these interns were on their own. They had gone virtual in their classroom settings and here they were about to do a 12-week internship completely virtual. We had a phenomenal buy-in from our leadership, so we supported interns with tech stipends. We gave them meals because you have to feed college students no matter where they are, so we partnered with DoorDash and during every single event we had, interns had meals that came to them. We did one-on-one coaching and leadership speakers in small groups, so it wasn't our 180 interns and one leader.”

Thanks to this communication and connection, DocuSign was able to enjoy a 95 percent conversion rate in 2020, despite the challenges. Although the company didn’t maintain that amount the following year, the conversion rate was still an impressive 90 percent.

In order to keep up this momentum, Kate says DocuSign is planning to try new and creative strategies designed to engage students and build a strong rapport with them.

“Everyone has something they love to do. I love to kayak. I climb. We're going to be doing hiking and talks with students as sort of recruiting events,” she said. “In the San Francisco Bay area, we're going to be doing city tours, so it's really walking and talking with us. That's going to be our initial recruiting event—get them off campus, get us out of the building. We'll see how it goes; we're just going to try a few different things that are entertaining and engaging for my team, as well as for potential interns and new grads.” 

Broadening Recruitment Horizons

To meet today’s early career recruitment challenges, Sonoco is rethinking the strategies it employs to attract talent, and Jacob says one major way the company is doing this is by broadening its campus horizons to cast a wider candidate net. 

“We all want to hire from our alma mater, we all want to go to this particular school or where our favorite football team resides and things like that. But we want to really understand the different types of colleges and universities that are out there, the different types of curricula being taught to students, and the skill sets of those students and where they can be applicable to our businesses,” Jacob said. “In moving forward, we’re making sure that everyone on board has a buy-in to that there are more schools than just these three that you’re familiar with. That's a big piece of this in our decision making and how we want to target schools and how we want to let our businesses know what's out there.”

In addition to determining what’s out there in terms of schools, Sonoco is creating strategies to find what’s out there in terms of talent. One way the company is doing this is by getting interns in on the act of recruitment, which helps the company find potential candidates, and helps the interns become more invested in Sonoco.

“We use returning interns as they go back to their campuses to help out, host events, and connect with student groups and organizations,” Jacob said. “It takes some of that load off our small team trying to be in a million different places at one time.”

Another way Jacob says Sonoco plans to take the load off recruiters is by planning ahead, which may be daunting in the short term, but will make creating a robust hiring funnel easier in the long term.

“We are really shifting our focus to what's going to be coming down the road three to five years from now,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure that folks understand it might be a little bit more right now, but it's going to save you a lot more time and effort and work and money three years down the road if we spend a little bit more time right now cultivating this part of the funnel and this part of the process.”

Selling a City

Since Duolingo does not plan to go back to in-person interviews, the company is instead focusing on going the extra mile to ensure that early career candidates not only become connected with the organization, but also with the city where it’s headquartered.  

“Duolingo is headquartered in Pittsburgh, which, as you can imagine, is a very tough sell for the early in career market. It’s not a city that people are just dying to go to, so we realize that for the offers we're making in Pittsburgh, we really need to build a connection to the city,” Renee explained. 

In order to do that, Duolingo has what is called Pilot Pittsburgh Days, which brings early career candidates who have already received job offers to the city to become familiar with the company, the location, and the other students.

“All of our new grads who get offers come to Pittsburgh for a weekend and it's strictly about fun and building relationships, not only with the city, but with each other,” said Renee. “What we found is that these cohorts of about 15 students form friendships and then one accepts and then another accepts. They come into the organization knowing someone. We do trolley tours around Pittsburgh. We rent out a rooftop and do dinner there. They meet with our CEO. It changes the mentality of getting to know us while you're interviewing, when everyone's stressed. It's a whole lot of fun to get to know the city, get to know the people you would be working with, get to experience the culture. It's really been a much better way, I think, to use our budget and our time because the office is buzzing—the leadership's excited, the students are excited. It's really changed the game on how we sell our location to potential candidates and hires.”

Similarly, Renee says that Duolingo works to sell the organization to students through ambassadors at schools who host events with their peers and talk about their experiences at the company.

“We redid our entire ambassador program last fall. We had several ambassadors at the same school and they all hosted one major event. For example, we had three interns that went to Brown and they did a huge ice cream social. I think we got close to 280 check-ins and resumes, and none of us had to travel or go anywhere,” she said. “Utilizing the ambassadors—since that's who the students honestly want to talk to anyway and learn about their experience—has been a really good approach and elevating that program from, ‘Oh, give your friend some swag and tell them about your internship,’ to ‘Here's some structure around this program. Let's track ROI. Let's have some goals. Let's incentivize this’ has been a really great way for us to maximize efficiency on the recruiting team and reach more students without having to travel a lot.”

For more insights from these early career professionals, click here to view our Top Internships AMA On-Demand Webinar

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