Business internship how-tos

Remember when an internship was little more than serving as a “gofer,” making copies or sitting around “paying dues”? As the economy slowly rebounds, some Denver companies are realizing that internship programs can boost their own growth while helping launch interns on a career path.

Internship programs are an ideal way to identify exceptional talent and future stars. Here at Northwestern Mutual-Denver, nearly half of our leaders rose through our internship program – a program that for 14 years has earned Northwestern Mutual a top 10 ranking in the financial services industry (Vault Guide to Top Internships, 2009).

How can more Denver companies develop similarly strong internship programs and use them to foster future leadership? Here are a few suggestions:

• Promote your program broadly: Instead of limiting your intern recruitment to just one or two schools, visit most of the universities and colleges in your area to ensure that the applicant pool is as deep as possible. Suggestions for increasing visibility of your program include working closely with the career services departments and individual faculty members to identify promising students, sponsoring campus events, advertising in the school newspaper Intand attending career fairs.

• Screen applicants thoroughly: Focus on more than a candidate’s enthusiasm for landing an internship. Although “fire in the belly” is a great attribute to consider, real aptitude and qualifications are critical to making sure an intern is a good fit for your organization. Consider intern prospects just as you would any other potential employee and you’ll be on the right track.

• Provide value to interns: Interns seek hands-on assignments that give them a chance to build business skills. If interns are challenged by real-world scenarios, they can get a head start in their careers and employers can benefit by testing out potential candidates for future employment. At Northwestern Mutual, for example, interns partner with a veteran professional sales representative to obtain a strong sales foundation. Interns also assess how companies treat their interns, figuring it indicates what kinds of opportunities are offered to permanent employees – their word-of-mouth experience can help build your reputation as a desirable company to work for.

• Develop a solid internal team to oversee interns: Successful internship programs don’t run on their own. It’s important that a strong internal team of mentors oversees the interns. This team should comprise successful performers within your organization who have a genuine interest in helping young interns succeed, who can spot talent, and who can help develop the skills interns will need for a successful future either within the organization or elsewhere.

• Use the program as a selection tool: An intern program can give your organization a chance to identify strong future talent and to pick the cream of the crop, especially in times when talent wars abound.

• Start slow, think big: It may take a while for your program to develop, so pace yourself to ensure you’re establishing a strong foundation and growing the program along with your business. Be sure to use what you learn from each group of interns to make adjustments so your program becomes an effective talent generator that attracts top interns.

These practices can help launch an internship program or improve an existing one. Above all, don’t forget the clear positives of a strong program. Remember, with your guidance, today’s interns can be tomorrow’s leaders.
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This article was prepared by Northwestern Mutual with the cooperation of Scott Theodore, CLU, ChFC, CFP®. Theodore is the managing partner of Northwestern Mutual – Denver, a network office of The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, Milwaukee, WI (NM). Northwestern Mutual Financial Network is the marketing name for the sales and distribution arm of (NM).