inline image

Manick Bhan, a former banker at Goldman Sachs, is the CEO and CTO at Rukkus.

Summer is here, and with it internship season is upon us. This means that companies everywhere (including my own) are off looking for interns online and at job fairs.

It's almost standard practice for managers to tell interns what they want to hear about the company culture, opportunities, and training at their organization. But it doesn't have to -- and really shouldn't -- be that way.

Most companies now understand how important internships can be: a successful internship could produce a dedicated, trained and highly valuable employee for the company later down the line. But what managers and companies know deep down doesn't always translate to what they do in practice.

In a jam, it's easy to see interns as sources of cheap labor, or to send them on the proverbial coffee run. There's no guarantee that the interns will come back as employees, so it's tempting to get what you can out of them and then send them on their way.

Looking at interns in this shortsighted way only shortchanges your organization. Interns may only work with you for a few months, but in a competitive talent market like the one Rukkus faces, the possibility of interns coming back as employees is essential.

If your interns return, they'll be rare entry-level employees who are already trained, experienced, and a great fit for your culture. That's why it's key to keep cultural fit in mind from the start when recruiting interns.

Misrepresenting your company's culture or underutilizing new talent may not lead interns to quit in the way that employees would, but it will drastically reduce your chances of bringing them back as employees later on. You never know what will truly resonate with them. For one intern, it may be that you gave them free Yankees tickets, while others may just value weekly feedback sessions.

At Rukkus, we try hard to always gain optimum return on spend. Doing things properly will in time help convert more qualified interns into long-term staff members. And to achieve this, it means a sticking to a few simple rules.

Give Your Interns Real Responsibility

All companies, especially growing ones, have some fluid needs. Hiring for each new job that comes up is incredibly difficult, which is why we're always on the hunt for new talent).

Interns can be a solution here, not just by doing rote work and freeing up full-time employees, but also by tackling the big projects themselves. This can be a scary concept for many companies, but with the proper checks and balances in place, there's nothing wrong with having an intern take a crack at a new or important problem.

It may not be the most efficient use of staff in the short term, but the potential long-term benefits are huge. At Rukkus, our most qualified interns have written algorithms and handled tasks that most other companies reserve for full-time employees.

Yes, we're making a training investment in temporary help, and that's a gamble. But giving interns real responsibilities also helps build a trusting relationship, and can lead to these talented (and trained) interns applying to full-time jobs in our organization.

Hire Interns Where You Need to Grow

There's a temptation with internships to hire where your company is already strongest. That's where you may attract the strongest candidates, and that's where you have large teams that could use some support staff, as well as the cliched (but necessary) coffee gofer.

Instead, keep an eye on areas where you need real help. If you hire qualified interns and follow the first rule, you can use them to shore up shorthanded teams and expand growing departments.

And if your interns later return as employees, then you've gained trained talent at an entry-level price in a department where you really need it -- not just a department where you already dominate.

Show Them What Your Company Is All About

Qualified internship candidates probably have some idea of what kind of company culture they'd prefer. If your company's culture doesn't line up with their preferences, they could head for another opportunity.

In today's talent market, especially in the type of tech-focused business spaces like the one my company is in, the landscape for quality employees of all levels (including interns) is very competitive. The best and brightest young talents tend to care as much about things like company culture and work-life balance as they do about salary and future opportunities.

This means being totally up front about your company's culture. When candidates ask about the culture at job fairs and interviews, they need to hear the truth. If it's not a fit now, it almost certainly won't become one over the course of the summer. Once you have that candidate, give them real responsibilities and put them in a position where they're truly needed.

Finding and using temporary help in these ways isn't always easy, but if it's done properly, it can create a pipeline for talent that will help your company succeed in the long term.