How-to convert interns into entry-level employees

May 16, 2019 | Development

Sarah Hobbs of Talent & Potential offers advice on the best ways to engage interns and bring them into the fold.

In 2018 ISE research shows that 6000 interns were recruited onto the talent programmes of its members: a number that seems to be growing year-on-year.  And why not?  Against the hope that a one-day assessment centre will identify key talent, the ability to watch the interns, close up, in-situ, inside your organisation is a fantastic way of really understanding who you would love to bring onboard.   Knowing they can be thrown in at the deep end, develop great relationships, impress your senior managers and cope with the oddities of your culture is hugely reassuring. 

Having decided that you want particular individuals, the game is afoot.  How do you ensure that they remain sold on joining you for up to a year post offer without reneging? To successfully convert your interns into your talent pool first get the experience right while they are with you as an intern and second, ensure that you keep them warm before they start. This blog focuses on the former.

A 2010 study by the Society for Human Resource Management in the US identified several key areas to get right for bringing on board any new starters, and they stand up well for interns:

  • Compliance – get the essential hygiene factors right.  Do they know the basic rules?  
  • Clarification – Do they know what you expect from them?  Have you shared relevant information about the role they are going to be undertaking?  Have you set up objectives for them to work towards over the time they are with you? 

Feeling confident about what they are doing will make their internship a positive one.  Put yourself in their shoes, an internship can be daunting.  You are going into a new situation where you don’t know anyone and have to learn quickly and impress all while knowing that your potential future career is on the line.  Coming away from the experience feeling like you have been successful, met expectations and delivered something useful, even valuable, is very energising.  From a place of feeling nervous, your organisation has made them feel like they could integrate and do a good job really quickly.  An antidote to their fear of out-of-control ambiguity. 

If you want to take them to the next level and retain them, there are two more things to consider: 

  • Culture – did you help them to integrate into the team or department?  Did they feel connected and begin to care about the organisation and its future?
  • Connections – did they start to establish good relationships within the company?  Did they have a buddy?  Did they make friends?  Did people know their name?  Did the senior manager in that area bother with them?  Have those connections agreed to stay in touch with them after the internship programme has finished?  Did they feel like a person or just a number or a target?

These steps will make it easy to remember the way they were treated and that people saw them as part of the team.  Why wouldn’t they want to go back to that after graduation?


Top tips – what can you do to make a difference?

Before they start:

  • Set clear expectations about what the internship programme can provide and what is expected in return
  • Offer feedback for further development based on the selection process 
  • Provide a buddy so they can ask lots of questions and will know someone from day one
  • Provide them with research into the behaviours of high fliers, so they feel more prepared when they start 

During Internship

  • Provide a journey map for what they can expect
  • Use clear measures and give regular updates on performance 
  • Ask the best performers on your early talent programmes to support the interns’ development thereby providing good role models, and information about what working for your organisation entails
  • Encourage your leaders and other staff to connect to them
  • Make sure they are given something they can deliver well
  • Use scenarios to prepare them for the best and the worst of organisational life – e.g. what do you do when you don’t get on with your manager, or other team members seem jealous of the opportunities you are getting. 


  • Offer feedback on performance that they can action – even if you haven’t offered them a permanent place 
  • Continue to provide access to people and opportunities for development, e.g. a mentor/buddy, and hold ‘in touch’ events periodically to keep them feeling excited about joining your organisation
  • Encourage people to stay in touch with them
  • Offer networking opportunities, e.g. with future colleagues or other future hires regularly.

With this in place you will both retain your new hires post graduation and have developed mini-ambassadors for your organisation. Good luck.

More insight on interns can be found in the ISE Annual Student Recruitment Survey 2018

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