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Today’s post is written by Britany Affolter-Caine of Ann Arbor SPARK.

How do Microsoft, Google, Ford, Goldman Sachs, and other well-known corporations secure the best graduating talent each year? (Hint: It is more than being a household name.) All these companies have well-developed internship programs that bring top students, often as sophomores and freshman, from across the country into their companies to work for a summer. These internships are designed to give interns (AKA prospective employees) an opportunity to do interesting work alongside company teams, and a positive experience within the fold of the company and local community. These experiences ultimately influence their job choice process post-graduation. Internship programs are a pipeline to top talent that all companies should leverage, large or small.

How can a small company compete with large corporations that have established internship programs? Large corporations are at an advantage in terms of practice, connections, and recruiting resources; BUT small companies have an advantage in offering high quality work experiences that enable interns to intensely engage in a diversity of tasks and make real contributions to projects – a critical factor in graduates’ employment choice models. Furthermore, small businesses offer real employment opportunities as the primary source of jobs in Michigan.

How do we develop a quality internship program that benefits our company and the intern? We may all remember our first internship – there was likely a lot of filing and answering the phone. These things need to get done, and for an intern, can be a gateway to learning more about the company. To be meaningful, a quality internship needs to include work that is core to the company. The key is to strike the right balance between menial and core tasks. To help you get started, check out the Michigan Internship Initiative Employer Toolkit.

With so many colleges and universities in Michigan and across the country, where do we start looking for internship talent? Each college and university has its own office career services (formerly known as placement offices). Some universities have many offices distributed across campus. It can be daunting to negotiate these decentralized systems, especially with limited time and money. There are a number of central organizations that can help you tap into the career services pipeline. The Michigan Career Educator and Employer Alliance (MCEEA) is a statewide organization that brings together employers and career services professionals from public and private two- and four-year colleges and universities. The annual conference in June is a great opportunity to connect with career services professionals from across the state. A number of higher education associations also provide access to career services, such as the concierge recruitment program of Michigan Colleges Foundation and the career services committee of the Presidents Council State Universities of Michigan.

There are also a number of online resources to post your internship:

  • Ann Arbor SPARK Job Portal – Many of you are already familiar with our job portal for your full-time positions. We get many students coming to the portal seeking internships in the Ann Arbor region – it is a great place to post your internship opportunity!
  • Pure Michigan Talent Connect – The Job Portal for the state of Michigan has hundreds of jobs and internships available! Check it out.
  • Intern In Michigan – Intern In Michigan is a statewide resource to attract and retain talent in Michigan. It only posts internships, so students and recent graduates know it is a great internship resource.
  • Urban Employ – This resource was founded in Detroit for the Southeast Michigan (SEMI) Region and focuses on young talent – both internships and entry-level positions. It has expanded to other major cities, drawing talent from across the country and putting SEMI on the map of
    “destinations of choice” for young talent.
  • truApp – truApp empowers talented college students showcase their work, skills, and passions to companies so they can make better hiring decisions. We are currently piloting the platform exclusively with the University of Michigan. There are over 500 UM students on the platform, ranging from engineers to business school students, looking for full time jobs and internships. If you would like to post your company and associated jobs on the truApp platform, register here:

Finally, keep in mind that you are not only using your company to recruit talent – the quality of your community is also important. Young talent often chooses a city before a job in determining where they want to be. Cities that draw the most young talent are destinations of choice, and they change over time, depending on the perceived quality of place – culture, recreation, arts & music, transportation options, and companionship within a community. Structuring a quality internship is one piece of the recruitment puzzle – structuring a quality experience that includes information and opportunities after hours is the other piece. Ann Arbor SPARK will be offering interns and employers in the Ann Arbor region a map of all the cool things to do in the city this summer – to be released in late-May 2012.