Three tips: improving internships

Jul 26, 2018 | Work experience/internships

Using insights from our newly launched ISE Internships Survey, ISE Research Analyst Samuel Gordon shares his final blog with three recommendations for improving internship programmes. 

1. Check your actions support your strategy

Most ISE employers hire interns for a purpose beyond business tasks. Ninety five per cent recruit interns to build a pipeline of future talent and 36% hire interns to promote their brand on-campus. Even though many firms do rehire a high share of their interns onto graduate programmes, it is important that all employers check that their actions support their strategy and also maximise their returns.

This can be a challenge when engaging with first year students. Thirty per cent of employers now hire first-year students as interns, compared with just 22% in 2017. These students need to stay engaged for a longer period. However, the right engagement and pipeline activities can ensure many become permanent employees when they graduate. It is worth thinking carefully about your engagement activities.

There is scope to improve conversion rates too. While an average of 57% of interns are offered graduate jobs, a quarter of firms offered permanent roles to their entire intake. Employers should check that support during internships is effectively preparing students to be eligible for graduate positions.

2. Strengthen the business case 

Intern employers listed business buy-in as one of their top five challenges this year. Even though intern volumes rose by 6%, and median intern salaries are still going up, recruiters still need to present a strong case.

The business case for interns is quite solid. Seventy per cent of employers who compare former interns with other graduates say that interns outperform in at least one respect. These hires either do better on-the-job, get to speed faster, or stay longer with their hiring organisation. What’s more, former interns are more likely to accept graduate job offers and more likely to have key employability skills. Employers need to make sure that their organisation understands these benefits.

There is also scope for all these benefits to be enhanced. Employers are continuously improving internship programmes, with 64% changing at least one aspect last year. Only 17% changed their stakeholder engagement, so there is more that could be done.

3. Continue to improve diversity

Employers are leveraging internships to improve diversity. Thirty six per cent of organisations hire interns to help improve the diversity of their graduates and 48% target specific demographics within universities when marketing. The share of employers tracking socio-economic metrics is also higher than ever.

There are three key challenges which need to be addressed. Women are slightly under-represented, with an average of 52% of female interns compared to 53% of the student population. The share of state-schooled interns appears to be lower than the share of state-schooled students. Finally, tracking could also be improved, with only 38% of respondents able to provide ethnicity statistics. All of these will take work.

There is progress too which can be built on. The average diversity of interns rose last year. Marketing activities are generally inclusive, with employers typically using five different channels. Building on these efforts will further improve the diversity of talent pipelines.


Our first in-depth look at internships shows some exciting trends. The quality of these opportunities is improving and access to opportunities is increasing. That said, there is scope for all stakeholders to do more. Acting on these tips can help to create great opportunities for students and ensure that interns remain a vital part of student recruitment well into the future.

By the time you read this I will have moved on to pastures new: keep up the good work. 

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