Intern Solution

HootSuite Interns | BCBusiness
Interns and wannabe interns in HootSuite’s new Vancouver HQ. The company was criticized last month for not paying full-time interns and is reviewing its unpaid policy.

With school out for summer, the fire hose of Gen-Y intern applicants can be a positive force for your company—if you know how to harness it

Summer is the season of the intern, as students, fresh off another year at school and doom and gloom employment forecasts, eagerly seek out opportunities to kick-start their professional career. With so many young people looking to break into the workforce—a study by Edelman Canada shows 81 per cent of Canadian millennial respondents said that finding a job that matches their personal passion is their top life goal—internships are often seen as the best way to get a foot in the door.

This presents businesses with an opportunity: to nurture and grow fresh talent who could potentially become valuable employees.

Simply signing up an intern, sticking them in a corner cubicle and waiting for the magic to happen isn’t going to give you results. Robert Jago, owner and director of Experience Education Internship Providers Inc., an agency that partners with for-profit schools and private universities to manage internship programs, says millennials “need to have a relationship with people at their host company… they need a mentor and they need to have guidance in their work.”

Jago and his team believe that Generation Y works best in a collaborative environment. Forcing interns to work in a silo, he says, is a flawed strategy, adding that businesses looking to create successful intern programs should follow these three steps.

1. Create a Partnership

Interns can’t flourish if left to their own devices, so make sure there’s someone in the company who can act as a mentor and guide. Don’t hold the intern’s hand every step of the way, but make sure guidance is available when needed. “We received 1,200 to 1,500 reports from interns last year,” says Jago. “Those who are happiest are the ones who have somebody they can touch base with, someone they can ask questions.”

2. Remember, Interns Aren’t Leaders

Just because your intern has unique skills doesn’t mean they should take the lead on projects. An intern may be a master at crafting clever tweets, but that doesn’t mean she should be running your entire social media channel. Interns aren’t the pillars you build on, but pieces that can augment existing teams.

3. Follow the Rule of Three

Internships should be broken up into three separate parts: the tasks that must be completed in order to keep a business functioning, job shadowing and a guided personal project. This balance will allow the freedom and creativity that will keep interns engaged while providing a safety net for any stumbles along the way. But don’t demand too much: “What a Gen-Xer sees as a great opportunity, a Gen-Yer can see as exploitative,” says Jago.

According to Jago, one company that consistently provides a stellar experience for interns is B.C. tech darling HootSuite. The company has a muscular intern-to-employee conversion rate of 60 per cent and sees its internship program as a way to introduce new ideas that keep it on the cutting edge.

HootSuite’s vice president of HR, Ambrosia Humphrey, says its philosophy is in keeping with the guidelines set out by Jago. “We’re committed to an equal value proposition with our interns, in making sure we know what they’re hoping to get out of the process and what we’re able to provide. We’ve never subscribed to the thought of putting a bum in a seat and seeing what happens or giving them something meaningless to do.”