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Sherri Higgins - 9/24/2019

This time of year, all the experiences with the intern program are fresh in your mind and you've had a chance to reflect on what that means. 

You’ve also had a chance to speak with others who are involved in the program and now you want data.  Data that helps you understand how the intern program affects your business and all the employees who are involved. 

Collect data that helps you understand the following:

  • Does the intern program deliver on the goals of the business and bring value to the business and our customers?
  • How does the intern program impact the employees within the business?
  • Does the intern program deliver the experience to students you planned for?
  • Does the intern program help me identify future talent?
  • How competitive is the intern program with other companies who may have similar programs? Does your program differentiate you as an employer and a great place to work?

The data helps me focus on what’s going well, opportunities for improvement and prioritize how I want to incorporate that feedback into the business.  It’s incredibly important to celebrate and share those successes across the business as you determine your path forward with the intern program.

There are a few easy ways to implement a data collection program or program assessment.  First, identify stakeholders that work with the program.  Three primary individuals or groups of individuals that have an important voice in the process are your managers, HR staff and the interns. Next, determine what data to collect.  Each of those groups will have a unique perspective on what’s going well, challenges they experienced as well as anything that presented a surprise.  They will also have an important point of view on what if anything should be changed or improved.  Finally, now that you’ve collected important feedback, determine what actions you’ll take and communicate them broadly.

To better understand the effectiveness of your intern program, start with the managers.  Managers are the backbone of any company and they carry the bulk of the workload for the intern program on a day to day basis.   Even more, the experience and perception the interns have of your intern program and your company is based on their interactions with their manager.  Here are some of the questions that help you understand your manager’s point of view:

  • Do you have the resources/tools you need to effectively work with an intern? This question helps you understand if your managers are trained well on communicating with interns and other direct reports.  It also begins to help you understand how the time commitments of managing interns impacts their own daily responsibilities.  Can they handle the workload, or is it creating a burden on morale?  If you’re selecting managers for the intern program as a developmental opportunity, is the assignment helping them accomplish their goals?
  • What would you start, stop, continue? Use this question understand the specific elements of your program.  Use this question to create baseline information about your intern program and the progress you’re making over time.

Collecting feedback from the HR staff helps you better understand how the processes surrounding your intern program work and the impact they have on your company.  Here are some of the elements of your intern program that you’ll want to collect feedback on from this group:

  • Are you getting the quality of candidates you want? This type of questioning helps you better understand if the job descriptions and the way you advertise your positions is hitting the mark.
  • Are your hiring and onboarding processes working effectively? Just like any employee, interns begin building their perceptions on the quality or your company the minute they walk in the door.  Are your processes well organized and clear?  How are the plans you have in place creating a perception that your company is a great place to work?

Feedback from interns helps you understand if the intern program you’ve created is working the way you intended it to.  Interns can provide valuable perspective:

  • Is the program what your expected? Probing for feedback in this area helps determine if the job description and way you’re communicating expectations matches the reality of their experience.
  • What did you learn? Asking interns what they’ve learned provides data on the breadth of their experience.  You’ll also learn whether they feel they did meaningful work and whether they feel that they were entrusted to contribute like an employee.
  • Do you want to work here? Would you recommend this experience to your friends?  These questions are the true test of job satisfaction.  If your intern program is designed to identify future talent, these questions are invaluable in determining whether the investments you’re making are paying off in recruiting talent to help grow your business.

How you collect data is important.  For small businesses, it can be as simple as gathering your stakeholders and sitting down over lunch to discuss the program.  Or you may want to create a simple questionnaire and conduct focus groups or discussions with your stakeholders.  Larger businesses may want to consider on-line survey instruments to collect data with large number of stakeholders.  The methods you use should match the data you want to collect and the number of stakeholders you’ve identified.  Some rules of thumb:

  • Design a set of questions that meets your needs. Create a baseline for your intern program and then repeat that core set of questions at consistent intervals.  Depending on your business, that may be every year or every other year.  Don’t be afraid to ask new questions as needed.
  • Benchmark data where possible. Understanding how competitive your program is can help you differentiate your company and attract the best employees. 
  • Keep it simple. Focus on elements of your program that are actionable.  The rest is just nice to know.

Ruthlessly prioritize what’s most actionable.  Focus your efforts on the critical few issues that you and your stakeholders agree bring the most value.  If you make just one change that solves a problem or makes implementing the intern program easier, it will have a substantial impact on your employees and the business. 

Finally, communicate, communicate, communicate.  Intern programs are an important investment in time and money.  Communicate what you’ve learned and what you’re going to do to all your stakeholders and across the company.  Celebrate your successes and take pride in your accomplishments.  Recognize all the employees who’ve contributed to your success.   Then, do it again and again.