Higher Education, Human Resources, and Marketing, PR & Advertising

How to recruit an intern

April 25, 2014
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How to recruit an intern
GVSU students look over materials at a career fair at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids. Photo via fb.com

“Send me an intern.”

It’s amazing how often I get such a message or request, or frankly, a command. I love to help employers get interns and students get opportunities. But this is the wrong way to go about it.

Our Advertising and Public Relations major program at Grand Valley State University requires that students do at least one 3-credit internship. But we are not a temp agency, and I don’t merely “send” interns at the behest of employers.

In my case, there are more than 500 students in my major. I don’t have each one of them in class. If I did, I wouldn’t know who is looking for an internship at a given moment. Nor would I know what type of internship a student is interested in. I especially don’t know the details of each employer’s internship duties and requirements — I get many emails from employers.

In short, I cannot play eHarmony for employers and students. It’s also not wise for employers to flood the market with emails to every faculty member for whom they can find an email address. That’s the equivalent of sending a news release to every single reporter in a newsroom. It sooner leads to annoyance than success.

There’s usually one faculty member who takes on internships as part of their service or teaching responsibilities for a given major program. But even then, they usually work with employers after an intern has been hired to monitor the experience and determine if credit is granted. For finding interns, employers are better off working with college career services offices.

It’s important to remember that internships are simulated work experiences. That includes seeking, selecting and applying for opportunities. And there’s a correct and efficient way of doing that too. What follows are key pointers for employers who want to get a good intern in PR and communications.

Have a job description

In PR, advertising and communications, there are a variety of jobs and related skills. Students have a sense of what they want to do in their careers, and they want internship experience related to that. They’ll search a university’s online job and internship database for opportunities that match their interest. Also, faculty need to know that the experience is worthy of receiving credit and the student will be engaged in the actual practice of concepts and skills learned in class.

Have a defined start and end date

To avoid frustration by either the employer or the student, defined start and end dates — as well as hours per week — should be clearly spelled out in advance. By the way, internships don’t have to be in the summer and don’t have to start and end on a semester schedule. Most universities are flexible and can work with employers to meet their timing needs and give students credit in the semester when they finish the internship.

SEO

Search engine optimize your job description. Many employers will call the internship a “marketing intern” even though the job description lists duties and skills that are taught in public relations courses and not in marketing courses. Students search for terms that reflect their major program and types of courses they’ve taken. If you want to attract students, you need to be conscious of terms used. I tell my PR students to search for marketing and communications, as well as PR internships, but not all of them do.

Know the program

Know the courses that students have taken in their college program. Ask about it in interviews, possibly even list types or courses a qualified intern should have taken. If you want an intern to write press releases or work on media contact lists, and the student has not had a course in media relations, maybe they’re not a candidate for you at this time.

Interview the student, and hire the best for you

As noted earlier, don’t use faculty members to be your HR recruiters and screeners. We want every student to know about opportunities, and we want them to have the experience of interviewing for a position. Also, you as the employer know better than anyone which student has what it takes to be a good intern for your company or organization.

Plan supervision

There are generally two types of internships — the ones where a student has a lot of autonomy and responsibility and the ones where a student has close supervision. Some students prefer and excel in the former type of environment, while others require the second type. Decide and commit to what degree of supervision you’ll provide and make that clear in the job description as well. Also note that students prefer to have a supervisor who actually has experience in their field. Others may do well in a situation where the intern IS the PR person, but that requires a mature student.

Pay

The law says that an internship must either offer pay to the intern or the intern must be receiving college credit, or both. So you’re not required to pay, and there are many good internships that don’t pay, but provide excellent experience to a student. But the better students do seek paid internships. Also remember that with gas at nearly $4 per gallon, and the fact that students are paying tuition, any hourly pay or even lump-sum stipend is appreciated.

All of the above are basic pointers about internships. Most college career services offices also offer instructions and toolkits for employers who want to start an internship program.

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