Strategies for a Successful STEM Internship Program

Gone are the days when interns were kept busy with coffee runs, menial tasks, or even sitting in the same office as your team. Today’s interns – especially those from science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) – are worth their weight in gold on the open job market and technology is putting them within the reach of companies around the globe. These interns aren’t interested in internships-as-usual. A recent survey showed that 89 percent of students pursuing a 2020 summer internship would prefer a virtual internship over a canceled one.1 So, if interns are an important part of your growth and transition plans, here are some best practices that will help you attract, nurture, and manage them –even if they will work remotely:

Happy Online Hunting

The quickest and most efficient way to scout for STEM interns is to step up your online game. Take stock of your virtual networks including STEM-related websites, social media, and your career site. Are you being pro-active in managing your online presence? Just slapping your intern openings on defunct or ill-managed social media platforms will do nothing to draw top STEM talent to your company. To be intern-attractive means having a dynamic, purposeful online presence that conveys why working with your company will help them realize their career goals.

Go Local

While a strong online presence is a critical part of recruiting interns, it doesn’t mean you can forget about your local high schools, trade schools, colleges, and universities. Connect with an advocate at each institution and let them know you have STEM internship positions available. Most schools have established internship programs that include programs and activities that will fit neatly into your outreach efforts. Make sure their career counselors understand what you are looking for in an intern since they know the student body, and will be able to match a student’s strengths, abilities, and education with your company needs.

Appeal to What Appeals to Them

Not all companies can offer the prestige of being a Fortune 1000 firm or an exciting tech startup, but the key is to zero in on what appeals to your ideal candidate and highlight the many ways they can achieve their goals with your organization. Showcase the interesting projects they will be working on, talk about the transferable skills they will learn, and paint a picture of the mentorship opportunities that will be available to them. Once you have created an appealing package, make sure your messaging highlights your strengths to make your opportunity as enticing as possible. 

Set One Major, Long-Term Goal

In addition to all the smaller day-to-day tasks, outline a larger initiative that they will be able to truly sink their teeth into during their internship. Whether it’s helping to launch a corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative, structure a more efficient workflow, or help shape a phenomenal customer experience, interns want to experience meaningful work. They want to invest their tech-savvy, digital know-how into helpful and innovative initiatives.2 Giving an intern a significant project gives them an opportunity to feel motivated by a mission where they can play an important role.3

Assign an Intern Mentor

Delivering on your intern promises is an important part of a successful internship. A designated mentor will work directly with the intern to ensure goals are clearly set and met. The mentor will also serve as the gatekeeper who manages the intern’s time, making sure they work on relevant projects and are not overloaded with too many assignments. As an added bonus, mentorship boosts retention among current employees4 and makes interns feel personally nurtured and invested in your company. In addition, happy interns are great ambassadors,5 which means more of their STEM classmates, friends and peers will be potential hires – a great benefit particularly when the talent market is tight.

The key thing to remember is that the better the experience you provide to your interns, the more value you will obtain from them in return – whether it is an immediate result of their work, a benefit of their ambassadorship, or even a buy-in level that has sold them on the idea of being one of your future employees.

  1. Creative Ways to Make your Virtual Internship a Success, Handshake Blog, (no date)https://learn.joinhandshake.com/employers/creative-ways-to-make-your-virtual-internship-a-success/
  2. Characteristics That Attract Exceptional Interns, Chegg (no date) https://www.internships.com/employer/resources/setup/10-internship-characteristics-that-attract-exceptional-interns
  3. 6 Ways to Create a Successful Intern Program, Doug And Polly White (9/12/17) https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/300092
  4. Mentoring Increases Employee Retention, Nate Ward (6/10/19) https://www.mentorcliq.com/blog/mentoring-increases-employee-retention
  5. How Companies Can Turn Student Interns Into Their Greatest Brand Ambassadors,  Adam Grant (9/29/17) https://www.inc.com/young-entrepreneur-council/how-companies-can-turn-student-interns-into-their-greatest-brambassadors.html

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