Attracting top talent is hard work — but workforce talent isn't the only thing that hiring managers and corporate recruiters need to worry about. Internship programs have at least as much of an impact on a company's long-term effectiveness — if not more — that traditional benefit packages. So how can organizations maximize their impact by designing effective intern engagement programs (while still saving time and money)?
Comprehensive orientations are as good a place to start as any. When done right, these day (and sometimes week)-long programs expose interns to your company's corporate culture, as well as its values and expectations. It's also helpful to pair interns with carefully selected managers who can provide one-on-one mentoring to the interns, as well as assign them meaningful projects with real-world learning opportunities. Of course it's also helpful if you can be thoughtful and strategic about your intern selection process in the first place.
All of these methods can help quickly and effectively create an authentic internship experience that is satisfying for both the company and the intern.
Yet, as with all the best laid plans, many interns choose not to return or accept full time employment.
What's missing from intern engagement?
To better connect with this generation, today's most progressive companies are turning to designing enjoyable, deliberate experiences that move beyond corporate-speak, long, ineffective meetings and outdated performance evaluations. Instead, these carefully created experiences give interns the opportunity to authentically connect not only with each other (building a network of supportive future colleagues within the organization), but also with the culture of the company.
What doesn't work with interns
Thomas Edison famously said, "I have not failed. I've only found 10,000 ways that won't work." When it comes to intern engagement, there are plenty of activities that often simply don't work. Here are just a few:
Why scavenger hunts work
It's a concept that's been around for awhile — think summer camp and even pirate treasure maps — but it's also a concept that, when combined with smartphone technology, we've found to be extremely effective at engaging millennials (who love both tech and feeling like part of the team). Scavenger hunts work because you can use a combination of friendly competition and your interns' natural curiosity, and create challenges that integrate your unique products, services and culture. Suddenly you have an effective, meaningful and frankly FUN activity that the interns actually care about.
Here's why these hunts can be so effective:
1. (Thoughtfully) choose the teams.
More and more of today's companies rely on effective teams in order to maintain their competitive edge. So why not initiate your interns with an activity that has teamwork as it's foundational concept? You can choose to place interns from different departments on teams so they can learn about each other, or pair departmental teams together so that they have a strong, immediate bonding experience from the very beginning. Either way, the dividends for this pay off months and even years down the line, when interns reach out to each other because they have a connection. Alternatively, we can help you create teams according to DISC profiles or based on work location.
2. Design meaningful scavenger hunt challenges.
Although having teams complete challenges that are simply fun and enjoyable are part of a great intern scavenger hunt, it's also important to include challenges that speak to your unique culture. Perhaps the teams need to find a local building that has a connection to your organization, or seek out a work of public art that the team feels best represents one of your company's core values.
3. Integrate technology — carefully.
We've found experiences are most meaningful (and run more smoothly) for interns when you can use technology as a tool to make real connections. Scavenger hunts are now high tech and app technology has replaced handwritten clues on a piece of paper. For millennials who have grown up with technology, this is a must. Millennials are also experts at taking selfies and documenting their life on Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook….so why not engage them to learn about the co-workers with the tools they use everyday?
4. Get them out of their comfort zone.
We've all experienced the discomfort — and subsequent learning — that comes with doing something we've never done before. It's one of the best ways to learn and grow. Scavenger hunts allow interns to try something new and expand where they feel comfortable. With support from teammates, scavenger hunts allows for the group to offer encouragement and support which leads to stronger work relationships.
5. Engage their creativity.
Millennials are a naturally creative, innovative and optimistic group. So give them some creative challenges that force them to find new and surprising ways to solve problems. Finding a rock in the shape of New Jersey won't do much to foster working relationships — but asking team members to discover what 5 things they have in common will create real connections.
6. Learn by doing.
Known as implicit learning, many of us learn best when we integrate physical movement with lessons learned — when we can do, see and feel the problem solving. Reading a brochure to learn that your company was founded in 1967 is a much less effective learning experience than asking finding the number 1967 on a building. Now your interns are actually working together, and regardless if they find the number or not , they will remember the date.
Intern scavenger hunts work well because they start with a format almost everyone is familiar with — the scavenger hunt — and gives them a twist. Not just fun and games, scavenger hunts ARE a really great time, but they're also a really great way to provide an experience that interns won't soon forget — and will have them coming back for more.
Need help designing a hunt that's both fun and effective?
Co-founder Jill Hinton Wolfe is a communicator, entrepreneur and Army veteran who is passionate about designing surprising and unique experiences for her clients.