Fantastic interns and where to find them

Just because summer's over the hunt for perfect interns ends? Think again.

Building a talent pipeline is a challenge a lot of fast-growing companies face, and an internship program is a great way of attracting bright, eager, and enthusiastic talent to join your forces. But with the season of pumpkin-spiced lattes and cooler temperatures upon us, and summer interns wrapping up their final projects—must companies wait until next year to look for fresh talent to support their teams?  

Absolutely not.

Quite often, we think of summer as the best time to bring in interns, with college students and recent graduates traditionally being the target audience. However, with college programs offering more and more flexibility in their schedules, there are lots of bright intern candidates looking to get their first hands-on experience year-round. At Mirum, we’ve been running an internship program for several years now—we’ve brought some of our interns onboard, and many are still part of the family. In fact, we have just completed our summer internship for 2018 and have some lessons learned that are worth sharing.

This year, we decided to take a different approach to our program. We invested more time researching internship programs and what makes them successful. The results inspired us to change course—instead of siloed responsibilities, we implemented a program that included a variety of hybrid roles, like project management and client services intern, strategy and marketing, and other experimental mixes. The idea was to expose our interns to all aspects of digital agency operations, and have them work with peers from different Mirum offices across our network. We developed a mentorship program, a volunteering initiative, a speaker series. Next was finding the talent to fit.

With our marketing and creative team, we brainstormed how to attract the right candidates. We hadn’t used Instagram Stories in our recruitment efforts before, but decided to give it a try, given that we were targeting Gen Z, who are known for their fast-paced media habits. We adjusted the copy of our standard job descriptions, which normally didn’t talk about the cool things our CEO is doing or how much we all love ping-pong. A week later, we had our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram posts up and running, sharing the opportunities we had to offer. Then we sat back, eager to see how our new approach would work.

Long story short, we went from a few to more than 4,300 applications for nine intern positions in just under two weeks.

Keep in mind, overwhelming success with the reach will lead to an overwhelming selection process -- paradox of choice at its best! An average of almost 500 candidates per internship position? To quote Gladwell’s Outliers, "Success is not a random act." This was clearly an outlier, and we decided to take the time to reflect on lessons learned.

Here are a few things about the program itself and how it was promoted that we feel are the key attributes to this home run -- hopefully you’ll find them useful in designing your own strategy.

It was important for us to understand not only what we wanted out of the interns, but what they wanted out of the internship. In the job description, we made it very clear: there will be no donut buying and coffee fetching. You’re doing real work. And because you’re doing real work, you’re being compensated for your time and effort.  

Gen Z is exuberant about what they do; they are full of passion and energy, they want to feel useful and engaged, and most of all, they want their work to be meaningful. We made sure our messaging was clear: At Mirum, we make what’s next, and we encourage their entrepreneurial spirit and need their disruptive ideas.

Unsurprisingly, an engaging and welcoming culture resonates with interns. It’s important that anyone who might be joining your company know what you stand for and what it’s like to be part of your community. The interview process for our program focused a lot on the cultural fit of candidates: what are you reading, what gets you excited to come to work every day, what would you do if you won the Powerball lottery? My favorite answer? Build a house on a mountain and open a Chipotle restaurant next to it.

We took the time to explain not only our agency’s capabilities and organizational structure, but who we are, our strategy and mission, and examined how the interns’ values aligned with ours. It’s a symbiotic feedback loop of sorts: the interns want to come work for a great company, and great companies want great people to work for them, so that more great people want to join.

Gen Z is allergic to fakeness and crave authenticity in all their interactions. We wanted the interns to know that the program we prepared for them was crafted with care and sincerity, so when it was time to promote it -- everything about it had to be real. No stock pictures on Instagram Stories, no dummy text in the job description, no dreadfully official interviews.

When we asked the interns for feedback on their application and interview process, a common theme was the importance of establishing a genuine and human connection with the company right away. Starting with the tone of the job description, followed by prompt and warm communication leading up to the interview, the aim was to make all candidates feel comfortable and welcomed.

Gen Z wants to work for companies where diversity is celebrated and nurtured. This isn’t, of course, intern- or generation-specific: recent research by London Business School experts finds that employees who feel free to express their authentic selves in the workplace are more likely to perform better, support their colleagues, and show a higher level of commitment to the company.

In the job description, we talked about how Mirum’s internship program is borderless, with interns across our offices working closely together. In fact, the reach of our program went as far as the Alps -- we found one of our interns in Lausanne, Switzerland! In the true spirit of celebrating diversity, one of the very first projects we had our interns support was coming up with marketing and social media ideas for pride month.

When all is said and done, if you want to attract top talent for your internship, you need to create a solid program that would speak to Gen Z, and use the tools that would get it to as many of them as possible.

Don’t limit yourself to summer internships -- with the right program and thought-through promotion tools, attracting quality candidates for your talent pipeline can happen year-round.

For us, getting the program in front of an immense number of candidates -- and getting over 4,000 applications as a result -- was only step one. Along with focusing on finding the best talent, focus on giving them the tools, training, guidance and support to grow them into the fantastic beasts that will help you create brilliant work and make what’s next!

Elina Enikeeva is the operations manager at Mirum.

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