While Indeed reported that internship posts are up for 2018, surpassing the last two years, searches for intern opportunities haven’t followed, meaning emplyoyers could face some stiff competition for interns this year. But as competition heats up, employers with a strong brand presence in the marketplace may have an advantage.
Companies are seeing the value of leveraging their brand to appeal to both consumers and applicants. A strong business brand can garner customer loyalty, increased sales and even better recruitment results. A survey from Glassdoor revealed that job seekers are 40% more likely to apply for a position if they are familiar with a company's brand. The same study found that 60% of employers identify their own brand awareness as a significant barrier or challenge to attracting and hiring candidates.
Intern applicants are no less savvy: they’re looking for a great experience and often have multiple offers to choose from. AfterCollege reports that for 2017 and 2018 graduates, 55% have had at least one internship before graduation, with 63% of them paid.
With internship opportunities on the rise, how can companies differentiate themselves from the crowd to attract top talent? Joe Shaker Jr., president of Shaker Recruitment Marketing told HR Dive via email, "There's absolutely a war for talent right now. In these instances, it's critical for employers to stress their differentiators, tell their brand story and really focus on attracting new talent."
"Any candidate," Shaker said, "regardless of experience, wants to know what that employer is going to provide for them." Leveraging your good name in the market is important, he said. "Early career candidates have a lot of options right now, so employers really need to focus on branding themselves to build awareness and affinity."
Some employers already know this. Harley-Davidson's #FindYourFreedom internship program may be the coolest thing on two wheels. The company is hoping to attract a younger demographic to their product line, and they may have found a marketing tool to accomplish just that: a branded internship program. For 12 weeks, eight interns will ride a Harley and learn about integrated marketing communications. The students will be trained to ride, attend local motorcycle and other functions and events promoting the brand. Throughout the program, participants are expected to post their experiences on social media. And at the end of the paid internship, they even get to keep the bike.
In 2017, Under Armour's Rookie Program was rated the top intern program in the U.S. according to Way Up, beating out the likes of Google and Facebook. This year, they're calling their interns the "summer league," and the company website says they'll go through the same training as corporate execs. The 12-week program promises the opportunity for real work and real results, and the company also makes clear that it hires from its intern pool.
Boasting your brand
While not every employer has a motorcycle to offer, there are ways companies can boost their brand and attract top interns at the same time. Moritz Kothe, CEO of kununu told HR Dive in an email that branding "is one of the most important areas that a company HR department can focus on when it comes to enticing interns and full-time employees alike.” He said he believes that a clear explanation of the company's mission and values positions it in the marketplace to attract. "The core of what the company does is going to be the first reason why someone is initially interested in a company, but having a clear picture of the day to day (think culture, benefits, perks, management and more) is what drives someone to apply and/or take a position with a company once it’s been offered."
Shaker said discovering your brand means being able to identify what sets you apart from the competition. With brand in mind, "ensure that every candidate touch point exudes your new employer brand in a way that's authentic and effective for the touch point," he said. "The candidate experience must be the guiding principle in this process to ensure employers are getting the greatest ROI and attracting talent effectively."
A good brand can make your organization more recognizable and top-of-mind, said Troy Steece, project manager at Korn Ferry Futurestep, via email. "[S]tudy after study shows that for millennials, a culture fit is critical, so the brand should accurately reflect the culture."
The ROI of branding
HR should be vigilant in finding ways to position their brand in a favorable light: applicants are examining online presence scrupulously before they apply. A stagnant career page isn’t going to impress, but leveraging reviews, social media and opportunities to spotlight who you are — and who your employees are — is a good first step.
From there, make sure to include the human touch when recruiting. "Interns specifically are usually feeling out a number of different options," Kothe said. “So if they can find a company to call home or a specific individual that they feel they can trust and be mentored by, the chances of landing someone who fits your needs and is motivated to work hard will be much higher."
The benefit of a solid intern program can be a great hire, too. Steece said finding good interns is the best way to find great employees. He recommends clients source interns in their junior year: if they are a good fit, make them an offer in the fall of their senior year so they are secured to join the company upon graduation.
Steece believes converting interns into full-time hires should always be the point of the intern program. "Based off research I've done in the past," he said, "former interns are almost twice as likely to stay at the company past the first two years." In a tight applicant market, that can be significant. Hiring interns at the conclusion of their program takes them off the market long before the competition has a chance to snap them up.