January 13, 2010

Interns: The Recruiter’s Secret Weapon

By Renee Houston Zemanski

The days of asking a groveling, pale, skinny intern to make 100 copies and get you a cup of coffee are over, my friend. Today’s college interns are energetic, talented, and savvy, and can provide you with a constant pipeline of good hires. If you don’t believe it, just contact The University of Connecticut School of Business (UConn) and The University of Akron. These schools work with local and national companies to provide wide-ranging sales internship programs for students.

At UConn, sales interns are expected to complete a comprehensive sales plan that culminates in a PowerPoint presentation to the company and the school. In addition, companies may have the intern work on a project of their own. Some interns are actually immersed in the sales of products right from the start – cold calling, telemarketing, and visiting clients. The school requires that students work a minimum of 120 hours over a four-week period.

UConn also maintains an ambassador program with some companies. Ambassador students are paid a monthly stipend to be a company representative on campus. Pete Peterson, the director of the Program for Sales Leadership and instructor-in-residence (Marketing) at the UConn School of Business, explains, "When companies hold events on campus – conducting resume reviews and mock interviews, for example – the ambassadors do some of the legwork and encourage other students to attend the event. They are a company presence and a bird dog for talent."

At Akron, an internship requires 300 work hours (20 hours a week for 15 weeks) and the student must contact the school every two weeks during the internship. The school also requires a final report for credit. "While internships are different at each company, the internship should provide the student with a significant learning experience," says Jon M. Hawes, director of the Fisher Institute for Professional Selling and distinguished professor of Marketing at Akron. "That can be done in many ways – through one-time projects or several projects. We encourage job rotation-type internships where students experience training courses as well as shadowing salespeople in the field and office."

Below, Peterson and Hawes weigh in on five reasons why companies should hire interns:

  1. Fresh perspective: Interns bring fresh ideas and energy that permeate the office environment, says Peterson. "It’s very motivating to be around young people," adds Hawes. "You also find that interns are even anxious to do the work that others may not want to do such as cold calling and manning phone banks. While these tasks may be boring for current employees, they are new and exciting for interns."
  2. New knowledge/skill sets: "Interns can provide an infusion of the latest thinking and research from academia to help a company stay competitive," says Peterson.
  3. The chance to preview talent: "Internships are like very long interviews," says Hawes. "It’s an opportunity for the company to get a good look at a potential employee at low cost and low risk." Peterson agrees: "How else do you get the chance to preview talent without making a permanent hire commitment? Sponsor companies have an advantage over other companies. They can get a good look at these students in a real work environment to determine talent and fit. On the other hand, students get to experience what a job environment is like. If they find that they don’t like it, it’s much better that the student and company know it before making a hiring investment."
  4. A talent pipeline: Having an internship agreement with a university provides access to a constant talent pipeline – you’ll be in touch with qualified students who are knowledgeable, eager, and enthusiastic to succeed in the sales industry.
  5. Lower turnover rates: "Since a relationship is built and both parties get a realistic view of the worker and work environment, the turnover rate after hire is significantly less – saving the company a great deal of money and helping the new hire be more productive sooner," says Peterson.