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Internship Wish List: The 12 Things Students Value Most

Jan 8 2014, 11:51am CST | by

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Internship Wish List: The 12 Things Students Value Most
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Internship Wish List: The 12 Things Students Value Most

Providing choices like “the opportunity for full-time employment,” “good references,” “competitive compensation,” “networking opportunities,” “a flexible work schedule” and “client exposure,” Universum, a global research and advisory firm, asked 65,679 undergraduates in the U.S. to identify the three they’d most like their internship employer to offer.

More than half (51%) said an opportunity for full-time employment is most important to them.

“Given the current economy, it is no surprise that interns most value the opportunity for full-time employment,” says Vicki Lynn, senior vice president of client talent strategy and employer branding at Universum. “However we do see shifts in what is most important to students year to year, and also country to country.”

Lynn says this data may be valuable to employers who are investing in strategic internship programs to source top talent for full-time positions. “A strategic internship program is one of the best ways to proactively identify, attract and engage talent early. A three-month internship period provides the employer and intern time to assess fit for the organization. Best in class companies, non-profits, educational institutions and the government are intentional about their internship programs, setting goals and measuring the conversion rates of interns to full-time hires. Studies show that the retention rate is higher of employees who had previously interned at the company versus employees who had not interned, so internship programs pay off as long-term talent acquisition and retention investments,” she explains. “The Universum survey is important because the data and insights help firms make decisions based on facts regarding what attracts top students to internships and enables firms to direct their intern program resources for optimum hiring results.”

While these survey results are likely most useful to employers—Lynn says that universities can also use this data to improve career services for their students.

Finally,” she adds, “parents who today are key influencers in their child’s career decision-making need to understand how to advise their children based on current data on the employment landscape. Yesterday it may have been sufficient to advise children to take a summer off, or to take a summer job as a babysitter or lifeguard. Today, content-rich internship experience is expected by employers, and more than 80% of graduating college students at the top U.S. universities have had at least one internship. Parents need to guide their children to seek meaningful internships that provide learning, growth and networking opportunities starting freshmen year or earlier.”

After full-time employment, what students want most from their internships is job orientation and training (42%), followed by a good employer reference (29%). Rounding out the top five are challenging assignments (20%) and flexible working conditions (19%).

“It’s always interesting to see data that perhaps dispels some of the hype about the Millennials and their work ethic,” Lynn says. “Students want internships that allow them to grow, stretch and contribute. They want to be in a learning environment. When companies treat interns like an extra pair of hands or a fill-in for a vacationing employee without investing in the content of the intern assignment, this usually leads to a very unhappy, unfulfilled intern. That unfulfilled intern shares her experience with friends on campus and soon the company offering the internship is having trouble finding talent for positions there. Best in class companies develop each intern assignment with documented details about the assignment, deliverables and key measurable goals.”

Workplace flexibility is increasingly important to Millennials, she adds. Technology has enabled productivity anytime, anywhere—and students who have grown up with the technology want workplaces that leverage it and the flexibility it affords. “Young talent looks for firms that offer variable start and end times, and opportunities to work remotely. Students seek environments in which there are flexible work options they can take advantage of.”

Competitive compensation is, perhaps surprisingly, the sixth most important thing to students (18% ranked it as one of the top three things they’d hope an internship employer would offer).

The survey also found that students value internal networking opportunities (16%) and an assigned mentor (15%).

Over the last decade we have seen an increase in the implementation of mentor programs in the workplace,” Lynn says. “It has been shown, particularly in the case of women and minorities, that mentors decrease the feeling of isolation and increase probability of retention.”

Other common responses among students when asked what they most hope an employer would offer during an internship: client exposure (13%), inspiring colleagues (12%), teamwork (11%) and international internship opportunities (10%).

“College students are not lazy entitled couch potatoes,” Lynn says. “They seek meaningful internships that lead to full-time jobs; they want to be challenged; and they crave guidance and support in the workplace.”

Robust internships are extremely important to students, she concludes. “Employers need to focus on these key points to drive their intern recruitment and conversion-to-full-time hire rates.”

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