Six Degrees of Hire Learning

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At Electronic Arts, Kim Capps boasts of a 30 percent conversion rate. "Our program is absolutely justifying itself," she says. "It helps us ship products on time and we've had 20 -- and counting -- full-time hires from it in just two years. In addition, 26 percent of the summer 1999 interns have accepted a full-time job at the company after graduation this year.

As a way to showcase interns' work, Electronic Arts adds their names to the video game creative team credits. By doing so, the interns not only have something real to show for their summer work, but others in the company can see that these energetic summer workers played a part in producing the final product.

Monitor interns' satisfaction with the program. Last but not least, ask interns how their experiences are shaping up. Doing that after the internship is over is necessary, but successful programs do it along the way too. Mentors should seek feedback from their interns on an ongoing basis and report that information back to the program coordinator. Feedback from interns is also critical to improving programs; nothing gets swept under the rug, and fabulous methods and experiences are spotlighted.

A good internship program will also pay off in ways one might not expect. Students return to campuses with tales of the interesting and fun work they've just done for fascinating companies, encouraging their friends and peers to consider working there. "It's good PR," agrees Jeanne Koch, the systems manager who coordinates recruiting and training for The Washington Post's systems and engineering department. "It gets our name out there in the marketplace. Students who've had a good experience go back to campus and tell their friends about us."

But bad experiences work the same way, only more rapidly. Word of one bad internship will spread like the flu in a windowless office building. "If students have a dull or bad intern experience, they'll go back to campus, get on the internet and start talking about it," says H. Michael Boyd, a program manager in human resourcing strategies research at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass. "Bad programs can collapse completely under the weight of bad publicity."

Some college career offices even reprimand summer employers if students complain of boring internships with absentee bosses who pass off only periodic busywork. Be assured that if college career offices know of a company's miserable program, hundreds of students have already been tipped off. And there's nothing like a company's bad reputation to send smart, eager and talented students running in the other direction.

"Internships are the way to sow the seeds for future recruitment," concludes Barbara Gomolski, research director at Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Gartner Institute, a company started by GartnerGroup. "If you give interns challenging work on high-level technologies, get them involved in the business and give them people they can look up to, you can entice them to work for you," she says.

In a competitive marketplace, that's quite a payoff.

These Kids Are Certified

The CIO of Contra Costa County turned to specially trained high school students to address its staffing shortage

STEVEN A. STEINBRECHER, CIO OF California's Contra Costa County, doesn't spend a lot of time trolling for new IT recruits. But with an IT budget of $25 million and an IT infrastructure staff of only 100 to 125, he needs all the help he can get.

"We're like a compressed multinational company," he explains. "This county has 40 different business units, including a hospital and a jail. We run the elections and manage all the child and welfare support checks for the sixth-largest county in the state of California."

Three years ago, Steinbrecher took what some might consider a drastic measure to address his staffing shortage: He began taking on high school students as interns. Not just any high schoolers, though: specially trained students who had gone through Cisco Systems' "Cisco Kids" (Cisco Academy) program, a two-year, four-semester-based certification program. "These kids push my old-timers," says Steinbrecher. "They're eager, tenacious and smart."

For some of the interns, this is their first real, paid work, so Steinbrecher buddies them up with an adult. "Some are very bright -- one is so bright he even showed IBM reps a thing or two about [IBM] thin client NetStations that they didn't know themselves -- but some have few social skills. We try to help them with that too."

Steinbrecher also counsels his interns about what more they can do beyond getting paid well to configure routers. "We try to show them that they might not want to be doing low-level stuff forever; that the only way to get into management is to go on to college," he says.

Several high school interns who've worked for Contra Costa County come back to work there during school breaks and the summer. And what about after college? "Oh yeah, we hope we get 'em all back after they finish college," says Steinbrecher.

This story, "Six Degrees of Hire Learning" was originally published by CIO.

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Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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