The Key to Converting Interns Into Full-Time Hires

If you run your intern program primarily as a recruiting tool, its conversion rate is your most important key performance indicator. It’s essential that your company sets a goal and tracks it to know what’s working and what’s not.

Intern conversion rates have slipped in recent years, though. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the average intern-to-hire conversion rate has gone from 61.9% in 2016 down to 45.6% in 2018. NACE also reports that employers should shoot for at least 50% to ensure a worthwhile return on investment. So what can companies improve on?


Recruit early and often.

The most successful internship programs get a head start on recruitment efforts. Studies show that many Fortune 500 companies retain more than 80% of their interns as entry-level hires. These companies start interviewing interns the fall before – on average, eight months prior to the program’s start date.

And interviewing isn’t even the first step. Planning for an intern class should begin the spring before fall recruiting, according to Paige Cole, supervisor of college relations at The Williams Company. Instead of seeing it as a once-a-year initiative, companies should view their intern program as an ongoing recruitment cycle that never really stops.

It requires frequent, high-touch contact between employers and potential candidates, from recruitment to hiring to their first day. Then, once your intern program is underway, it’s best to extend full-time offers to your high performers as soon as you can.


Challenge them with real work (and reward them with real pay).

Students take on internships to get real work experience and build their skillsets. Employers should cater to this need by having job responsibilities and worthwhile projects ready before their interns arrive. Not only do interns benefit, but employers should also see the advantage of getting business-impacting contributions from their interns.

Not every company can afford to pay their interns the same as full-time employees. But a reasonable paycheck goes a long way. It can help you attract a wider applicant pool, and it shows your interns that you value their time and skills.

No matter how much they’re paid, interns should be treated like regular employees. “We offer an opportunity that mirrors a full-time opportunity,” says Christina Owens, an intern program manager at Vanguard. “[Because] students are interviewing for a full-time position through their performance.”


Re-evaluate your company’s culture.

Retaining top interns requires companies to understand what they want from their early career experiences. Adjusting company culture and the office environment to match their expectations is key to attracting these future rock stars.

During the program, interns should be given first-hand exposure to get to know the brand, how teams and coworkers treat each other, and how the business operates as whole. If you impress them on this aspect, your conversion rate is sure to benefit when it’s time to extend full-time offers.


Remember, converting interns into full-time employees has proven to be the best way to build your company’s talent pipeline. And your talent is essential to your company’s overall success.