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How to Boost Your Intern-to-Full-time-Employee Conversion Rate by 21%

Each year, between 50-60% of college students complete an internship. Of those students, 70% receive a full-time job offer from the company post-graduation.

And yet, only half (56%, to be exact) will take the company up on its offer. The other half will choose to take their knowledge, talent, and newly-acquired skills elsewhere.

For years, the intern-to-employee conversion rate has posed a problem for employers. Companies invest time, personnel, money, and resources in designing a robust internship program for students — a program that should create a pipeline of full-time entry-level talent. If you spend the summer months (or an entire semester!) mentoring and molding students into knowledgeable employees, you hope it will pay dividends later on.

And yet, many students choose to take the real-world experience gained from internships and apply it at other companies. Case in point: While a 56% conversion rate may sound low, this figure is actually higher than average. This statistic was taken from 2019, before many internships were canceled altogether due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Just one year prior, the average conversion rate hovered around 45%, while the five-year average from 2015-2019 remains just north of the halfway mark, at 53.32%.

TL;DR: If you spend the summer training an intern cohort into exceptional employees, you can expect only one in two will stick around post-graduation. 

As an employer, your goal should be to boost your intern-to-employee conversion rate to ensure you have a robust cohort of early-career talent. Below, we explain why your intern conversion rate is underperforming, and how to remedy the issue. 

4 Reasons Your Intern-to-Employee Conversion Rate is Low (and How to Give it a Boost)

The war for top talent is fierce — particularly when it comes to early-career candidates. The Great Resignation has caused the number of vacant roles to climb exponentially — a movement that 65% of Gen Z candidates state they will join this year.

Your internship program is one of the best ways to build an early-career talent pipeline. If your internship conversion rate is lower than expected, it could be due to the following reasons: 

1. Your Timeline is Too Long 

The road from intern-to-full-time-hire is a long one, and much can happen within those months. 

According to LinkedIn, it takes an average of 30-49 days to get hired — at least, for mid-level employees. For interns and entry-level employees, you could be waiting nine months to a year before welcoming a new grad to their first day on the job.

Think about it: If a candidate’s summer internship ends in August, you could wait until May to welcome them back as a full-time employee. This nine-month timeline could easily extend to 10-11 months if the recent grad needs time to relocate, apartment search, and take a breather after final exams. In other words, a candidate has the better part of the year to hunt for a better opportunity.

And frankly, most of them will take it.

According to the Abode community, a staggering 86% of students state they would renege on an offer if a better opportunity came along. If you want to keep candidates engaged from the moment they receive your offer to their first day, you need to implement an effective keep warm strategy. By communicating with candidates on a regular basis, sending valuable content, and offering opportunities for mentorship and networking, candidates are more likely to stick with you through graduation.

2. You Let Onboarding Slip

Your onboarding process has the opportunity to make-or-break a candidate's experience.

Unfortunately, most onboarding programs leave much to be desired. According to Gallup, a dismal 12% of employers strongly believe their organization does a “great job” at onboarding new hires. Meanwhile, organizations with a strong onboarding process can improve employee retention rates by 82%.

If you want to retain top talent you need to take a hard look at your onboarding program — both for interns and full-time employees. If you wait to onboard interns until the very last minute (leaving them feeling unprepared for their first day) they’ll remember the negative experience come graduation. 

Instead, consider launching onboarding procedures prior to a candidate’s first day on the job. See if you can send documents in advance, and be sure to follow up to see if candidates have any lingering questions as they fill out any paperwork. Be sure to use an automation tool, like Abode, to ensure no communication gets lost in the shuffle.

3. You’re Not Invested in Their Future 

Here’s a sentence every university recruiter needs to remember: It’s👏not👏about👏you👏.

The best recruiters don’t just consider how a candidate could advance the greater company. Instead, they position themselves as a resource to help advance the career of each individual candidate, offering opportunities for networking, career advancement, and skills development.

Make it known that you’re invested in the professional development of each intern, or you can’t expect them to stick around post-graduation. According to a survey by Zety, 43% of Gen Z candidates would leave a company due to a lack of professional development opportunities. In addition, 43% state they would quit if they couldn’t advance within the company. 

Prove to each candidate that you care about their professional growth by wishing them luck on midterms and final exams, recommending third-party certifications and training, or inviting them to periodic networking events at your company. Set a goal to check in with candidates once per month (at minimum), offering valuable content to help them get a jumpstart in their career.

4. You’re Focused on Managing, Not Mentoring 

Today’s early-career candidates are highly curious, intrinsically motivated, and care deeply about their personal and professional growth. Therefore, it would be a waste of personnel to spend time micromanaging your intern cohort or entry-level hires.

You could, however, redirect that energy into building a mentorship program.

A staggering 58% of Gen Zers state they have zero mentors in their lives. Another study by 74 million found that only 38% have someone in their lives to model a good work ethic. Therefore, most early-career candidates hope to find guidance and mentorship opportunities from their employers. 

While 70% of Fortune 500 companies have a mentorship program in place, most of these programs fall flat — particularly for interns and entry-level hires. Many companies treat internship programs as “glorified summer jobs,” where bright, talented students are tasked with data entry and busy work, rather than professional guidance and growth opportunities. In fact, one study found that while 80% of interns reported participating in a mentorship program at work, only 15% stated that program administration actually evaluated the effectiveness of mentor-mentee relationships and 40% were not given the opportunity to select a new mentor.

If you expect former interns to come back post-graduation, you need to invest in a mentorship program. Have mentors check in with mentees throughout their senior year, offering career advice, study tips, or reading lists to help prepare them for the workforce.

Use This Exact Formula to Increase Your Intern Conversion Rate 

For every two interns you try to convert into full-time employees, only one will accept your offer. This low intern conversion rate causes a drain on time and resources, particularly when the Great Resignation makes it increasingly difficult to recruit top talent. 

To increase your intern conversion rate, you need to develop a mentorship program, revamp your onboarding process, and show candidates you’re invested in their professional development. Sound like a long to-do list? Don’t worry — we’ve already done the hard work for you. 

We created a detailed guide for you to use to keep candidates engaged from the last day of their internship to their first day as a full-time employee. We provide the guidelines and sample content to use as inspiration as you build out your own engagement and communication strategy. Download the template here to start impacting your intern-FTE conversion!

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