How to Turn Your Summer Interns into Brand Ambassadors
Summer is coming, and with it, the summer interns. By now, you’ve certainly decided whether or not your company is going to welcome any fresh-faced, career-driven college students into the office for twelve weeks. Heck, at this point, you’ve probably extended offers to your most promising candidates.
And you’re doing it for the right reasons – not because you want cheap labor, but because you believe you and your employees can do a lot to guide people down their career paths.
Internships aren’t just good for the interns (although students who complete internships earn 15 percent more on average in their first jobs after graduation than those who don’t). And internships don’t just benefit companies by providing labor (although an astounding 85 percent of companies reportedly turn to interns to later fill full-time positions). In this age of information, when a company’s every action can affect its reputation among consumers, providing a great internship experience is another way to drum up incredible word of mouth about your business.
So take a look at these tips and guidelines to make sure that your interns come away not only with a wonderful work experience, but also with a positive impression of your company that they’ll want to share with everyone.
Provide Fair Compensation
Once upon a time, employers believed they could outsource all their menial tasks to unpaid interns, thereby getting the lowly but necessary chores needed to keep the business running done at almost no cost. It was hardly a fairy tale arrangement for the interns, which is why the magical spirit we know as the Department of Labor got involved.
Using the Fair Labor Standards Act, the DOL came up with six criteria to determine whether or not an employee is doing the kind of work that requires monetary compensation. Is the training your interns get completely different from the kind of training they’d get at school? Are they doing the exact same work employees would do? Do they expect a permanent job at the end of the internship? These are some of the factors that mean you might owe your interns at least a minimum wage.
But you want your interns to be happy, right? Then look at them as an investment in your company’s future, and invest your funds accordingly. A report produced by the career website Glassdoor.com suggests that paid interns make, on average, between $15 and $19 hourly. An internship compensation guide from the National Association of Colleges and Employers also suggests rates in that range.
Not every organization is rolling in the dough, of course, and we get that. Assuming your internship doesn’t involve the kinds of activities that the DOL says require payment, there are all sorts of alternative ways to compensate your interns:
• Help with housing expenses (and/or relocation expenses if they’re coming in from out of state)
• Coordinate with their schools so that they get college credit
• Give them bylines and publication credit if they write any articles or company blog posts
Plus, being a promotional products company, we’re also fans of a smaller form of compensation: branded apparel, like t-shirts, hats, and jackets, that make your interns feel like part of the team and that they can wear anywhere.
Establish Clear Working Parameters
Offering compensation not only makes a company look good; it also tends to net companies a better selection of candidates. The best interns, however, aren’t going to be the ones who show up just to spend their days checking e-mail. They’re the ones who will want to know exactly what they’ll be working on and what goals they’re expected to hit.
There are plenty of guidelines to communicate. When you first ran your intern hiring ad, you probably provided a list of responsibilities that go with the position. That’s a great start, but now, before your interns arrive, is the time to think of specific projects you want them to work on. Got the big picture set up? Great! Don’t forget to communicate the little details, too:
• Corporate policies
• Codes of employee conduct
• Lists of emergency procedures and contact information
It’s all part of business!
A great way to make sure your interns successfully make their goals is to assign them to a small work group, preferably with an established employee to supervise or manage them. It’s a win-win proposition: you get to make sure your intern is staying productive and happy, while your intern knows exactly who to turn to for feedback or help with questions that arise.
Plus, a supervisor makes an approachable mentor, the kind of person that interns love to talk about on the Internet.
Bring Interns to Meetings and Networking Events
Who does what at your company? What does day-to-day life there involve? What outside business partners does your company work with, and who do you know in the community?
Your summer interns might have a supervisor or a small group cohort to report to, but introducing them to people throughout the company expands that mentoring circle. It’s excellent for helping them establish ties in the industry and understand the big picture.
Sarah Lisovich, Senior Editor and Content Strategist at CIA Medical, participated in several internships before graduating not too long ago. “Setting up brief meetings for the intern and each member of the company on the first day of the internship is a great way to start, to make sure the intern has a good understanding of what everybody does, allow the opportunity for them to form connections, and for the other team members to get to know the intern as well,” she says. “Including interns in company meetings, even if their tasks do not play a great role in the topics being discussed, is a great way to make them feel a part of the team.”
If you want to extend your interns’ networking opportunities, you might consider bringing them to other business events that will be taking place during their internships:
• A trade show or a conference
• A community luncheon
• A meeting with clients
Community networking is a part of business operations that courses don’t always talk about. Plus, not that the internship is about you, but bringing a curious, articulate intern to events can’t exactly make your business look bad!
Provide Extended Learning Opportunities
that Explain Your Brand
In college, even in the courses we really, really, really don’t want to take but have to for our degrees, we’re told that we’re learning useful skills – usually when we’re stuck doing research for a term paper.
The best projects for interns find a way to make all of those hours poring over websites and digging through musty old books useful; they also demonstrate that the ability to do research has real-word applications. Consultant Heather R. Huhman has a list of ideal projects for summer interns on her site. It includes:
• Researching a possible new product
• Submitting a proposal for redesigning the website
• Creating a marketing plan
All of those are projects are in line with what employees do in the workday. Even better, they require interns to put their research skill to use because they’ll have to research your brand to produce a top-tier assignment. What’s your company’s brand voice, and what color schemes and typefaces do you prefer? What are your marketing goals? Research team, go! And they’ll probably become some of the people most familiar with your brand in the process.
Of course, there’s nothing like putting the knowledge they gleaned from their advanced classes to work to help them create projects they’ll love to tell the world about.
ClickTime is an SaaS (Software as a Service) company that produces time and expense management software. “ClickTime offers summer internships in Software Development, Product Management, UI/UX Design, Marketing, and Marketing Design,” says Sarah Dabby, ClickTime’s Head of Talent. “They work with their respective intern team and ClickTime’s CEO to design, test, and build a secret feature of our application that they present to the entire company at the end of the summer. Past intern projects, like our ClickTime Chrome Extension, have shipped and are regularly used by customers worldwide.”
Not too bad for a summer project.
Have Interns Post about Their Internships on Social Media
We mentioned the idea of having students write company blog posts as part of their internships. We know that social media is an integral part of most companies’ marketing. And we’ve seen how much time people like to spend reading Tumblr Gets Deep or sending snaps.
Don’t they all seem like a bunch of great tastes that taste great together? Or something like that?
One of the best company blogs we’ve seen interns posting on is The Allstate Intern Blog. This Tumblr blog doesn’t just have interns talking about company policy. It employs the idea of making the product a secondary focus (Allstate insurance, in this case) and instead building the Allstate brand by letting the interns talk about what they’re doing. Allstate gets to develop its reputation as a transparent company (the World’s Most Ethical, in fact!) that helps students grow professionally. Interns, meanwhile, get to tell future potential interns about their experiences and be responsible for company communications while hanging out on Tumblr for part of the day. Another win-win, we’d say!
It’s one thing if your interns take the initiative and start posting about your company and brand on their own. It’s another (quite progressive) thing if you encourage them to do it on company time. And there’s no limit when it comes to choosing a social network for interns to post on. As long as the network fits your brand, you’re in good hands, as Allstate would say.
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If you do any work in marketing, you’ve probably heard that employees are some of your best brand advocates. We want to take it a step further. Summer interns have no obligation to your company beyond their twelve-week stint, but by providing them with good compensation, development opportunities, and chances to learn and share what your brand is all about, you could earn their loyalty long after the internship is done. Plus, a company that takes cares of its interns is likely to take care of its clients, and there’s no better reputation than that.
Business owners: do you have any unique opportunities in place for your summer interns? Students and interns: have you ever developed brand loyalty as a result of an internship? What makes an internship great? Let us know in the comments below!