In 1982, when I was attending UCLA, I worked as an intern for Warner Amex Satellite Communications. This was back when cable TV was really taking off, and Warner Amex was the company that created MTV. As a somewhat aimless college kid who played in a rock band, this proximity to the "biz" really appealed to me. I also wanted some office experience, because I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life. And while the job itself was a bit tedious (I made cold calls to cable companies about our offerings), I learned a lot about hard work. Business had seemed "glamourous" before--but I learned that it wasn't all jokes and meeting stars. And back then, that's what internships were for, right? For learning and experience.

Boy, how things have changed. Today's internship programs go way beyond building skills through hands-on work. They're about mutually building connections and relationships that are as much to your company's advantage as they are to the interns you hire.

In other words, if you're not already bringing interns on board, you'd best get started. Here's why:

Interns today can be immediately productive. Back in my day, we walked into an office blindly, with no real clue about what the company did or how we could help. The Internet has completely changed that.

Today's interns belong to a generation that doesn't just know how to use computers--they are incredibly adept at research, and they're quick learners. They've grown up with the ability to answer any question just by looking it up online, so you can bet that any intern you hire will have read up on your organization, learned about what you do, and even thought about ways they can make an impact right away. As such, you can skip the initial hand-holding and explanations, and instead plug your interns directly into the tasks for which they were hired. In fact, I'd say that college interns probably have the shortest learning curve and fastest time-to-productivity of any labor demographic today.

You can connect with each other long term. Today's interns and the companies they work for have a luxury I didn't back in 1982: social networking. I didn't have Facebook and LinkedIn to help me forge and maintain relationships, so it's not surprising that after my internship, a full decade passed before I ran into someone I met during that time. Our paths crossed during a business negotiation between my company and AOL, and not surprisingly, the fact that we had met during my internship played a part in smoothing that negotiation. It helps to know people, right? Wish I could have hooked back up with him sooner.

Now imagine the power you and your interns can have when you use social media to nurture those relationships and leverage each other's networks over time. When you hire an intern, you have an opportunity to track a connection with someone who is just starting out. Not only do you help shape their initial experiences in the business world, but you can watch them unfold and use their future experiences and connections to your mutual advantage. Consider this: Your intern today could be your competitor's marketing director tomorrow. But if you've supported your relationship with this person well, he or she could potentially bring a vast quantity of expertise back to your organization as your new CMO.

You can actually recruit through your interns. Twenty or thirty years ago, the only real value companies got out of their interns was the work they did at the time. Today, the value is literally exponential. For every intern you hire, you have a multiple of hundreds of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter connections you can use in your long-term recruiting. Looking for referrals? You can easily ask interns to pass a Jobvite or application link on to their friends. Need more interns? Have your senior year interns talk to their sophomore and junior buddies, and then connect with them online as well. Want to bring new college graduates on board? Delve into your interns' networks and see who they might know. The best part about leveraging interns in your recruitment efforts is that you get easy access to fresh, new talent with highly sought-after skills. This is a practical, scalable recruiting method that goes hand-in-hand with your college recruiting campaigns.

Sometimes I wonder where I would be now if I could go back in time and redo my internship with today's technology. What relationships would I still have--and what new ones would I have built? What advances could I have made differently? Of course, it's a moot point for me; my time of being an intern is long past, and what's done is done. Fortunately, however, my time of hiring and connecting with interns is still in full swing. I hope yours is as well.

Published on: Apr 9, 2015
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