Why do we know so much about working with students? Well, 1/3 of EduSource employees are actually student apprentices. Our software engineering apprentices work for us for up to two years during college – full-time in the summer and part-time, remotely during the school year.
We’re always happy to share from our experiences in working with students. Here are some bits of knowledge we’ve learned about hiring students:
Not every college program is created alike. Several years ago, we determined what criteria were important to us, and committed a few days of research to find schools with programs that matched them. For us, it was important to find small schools with at least 3 dedicated computer science professors. We’ve found that smaller schools are more likely to be excited to work with us and recommend us to their best students. In addition, we’ve found that the number of faculty is a decent representation of the size of the department.
We made a list of all the schools in Indiana and surrounding states that met that criteria, and started narrowing from there. Though we have “favorited” certain schools from that original list, we still work the list and try to get students from all the schools listed.
Especially for a smaller company like EduSource, it’s completely worthwhile to get to know the faculty at your main feeder schools. You might volunteer to host an informational night (we spring for pizza) at certain schools or volunteer to speak in a class. We have also hosted field trips, served on panels, and keep faculty in the loop on any changes we make.
When you make the effort to get to know faculty, especially at smaller schools, they can also give you references for the best students. Really anything you can do to get on campus and in front of students is going to help your internship program.
Instead of just asking questions, simulate situations where the students will do similar things to what they’d do in the internship. Since teamwork is important to EduSource, we conduct apprentice interviews in which we ask groups of students to problem solve together. We give them a white board, markers, and a problem to solve. Then we sit back and watch – to see if they write decent pseudo-code, to see who takes a leadership role, and to keep an eye out for the student that runs over everyone else.
We know, there are still certain industries that can get by with not paying interns. But it’s just plain a bad idea. Students have to choose between practical experience and getting money that will help keep them in school. Plus, your employees won’t put as much effort into a free internship. If you expect your employees to consider your interns to be valuable, you need to treat them that way.
In addition, there are state-specific laws about what unpaid interns can and can’t do. In many states, they can’t do anything that will add to the company’s bottom line. Why would you want to put yourself in that position?
For schools that you are hoping to make “feeder schools,” take the time to attend job fairs. Often there are dinners or panel discussions surrounding the fairs. These are great ways to have personal contact with students. Take advantage of them.
You wouldn’t hire a full-time employee and not think about them until they walk through the door, but sometimes we do that with interns. Make sure to have an on-boarding process ready to get the interns up to speed quickly and efficiently. Make sure their equipment and desks are ready to go.
At EduSource, the first two days apprentices are in the office are always training days, with everything from a fun scavenger hunt to help them get to know the area to in-depth process instruction included. Sure, it costs us some upfront. But it pays off when apprentices are ready to start in on project work on day 3.
Since our apprentices work remotely during the school year, this is key for us. We ask them to jump through several hoops before ever getting to an interview, just to see if they are dependable enough to complete the process and meet deadlines. Other things to look for: did they show up on time for the interview? Do they respond to email questions in a timely manner? Are they professional in their communications? All of these can be indicators for dependability.
Social media is the best way to reach students outside of talking to the schools themselves. Build a student following on Instagram or Snapchat. On these intern-focused social media, play heavily on photos of culture events and benefits of working at your company. Get first-person accounts from former interns.
Then make sure to promote application season and give tips for scoring a great internship.
There’s a huge push to help employers give internship opportunities to college students. Make sure to see if there’s state money available to help fund your interns.
In Indiana, for example, you can get half of certain local intern’s hourly wage reimbursed through IndianaIntern.net. Some colleges will help with internship costs through grants, too. Take the time to look.
Don’t get me wrong – a high GPA isn’t a bad thing, but in our experience, students that value grades above all may require more specific directions and more hands-on help than those that aren’t in the upper 5%. Call me crazy, but most of our upper-echelon brainiacs have had a shorter tenure at EduSource.
Before the summer starts, pair your interns up with a mentor that will take them out to lunch on the first day. This person shouldn’t be a supervisor, but more of a friend, someone for the intern to go to when they are stuck or don’t know what to do, someone to ask that dumb question. Our mentors meet with students bi-weekly all summer, checking in to make sure things are going okay, coaching them for their future careers, and giving them a chance to develop relationships outside of the reporting structure.