Winning over college interns in a competitive field

As college interns head back to school, it’s important to stay engaged with promising candidates as part of your institution’s strategy to acquire young talent.

Well-known investment firms and big banks continue to attract large pools of college interns with robust programs and high salaries. Bloomberg reports that the top global investment banks increased intern pay by 37% for the current internship season compared to a year earlier, while large banks boosted their comp by nearly as much.

For smaller banking organizations that can’t offer high salaries, it can be hard to compete for student interns. This puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to building their teams. In a recent study, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 66% of interns converted to full-time employees last year.

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The good news is there are options, especially with the Gen Z students in college now. Here are some suggestions for both attracting interns and keeping them engaged when they’re back on campus.

Play to your institution’s strengths

While competition to attract interns is fierce, there’s also a record number of applications and spots are hard to secure in large financial organizations. This presents an opportunity for firms to stand out when high salaries are not an option.

  • It’s important to define your culture and identify what about it appeals to college students. Keep in mind, these are Gen Zers with very specific wants. According to a Deloitte survey, 77% of them place importance on working for an organization whose values align with theirs.

Qualities of your culture that will likely appeal to Gen Z include a diverse and inclusive workplace; flexible work arrangements; mental health and well-being initiatives; a defined stance on social justice issues; interaction with senior leaders; and a commitment to addressing climate change. These differentiators set your organization apart from firms that are mainly focused on salaries.

  • Once your culture is defined, it helps to identify campuses that are in alignment. This will narrow the field so you can start building long-term partnerships. Banks and other companies are often hesitant to make this investment because it takes time to see a return. But simply throwing up a tent at an annual recruiting fair is not going to get the same results as collaborative relationships. Start by reaching out to college and university career services offices for advice. You can also target department chairs and academic clubs.
  • When reaching out to Gen Z students directly, keep in mind they’re very savvy to media and marketing. Instead of a hard sell, incorporate some altruistic outreach that gives them something of value. This can include offering to review their resumes and cover letters; helping them hone their interview techniques; providing job search resources and advice; or simply being a sounding board.

Additionally, hosting company information sessions in exclusive locations and inviting small groups of students based upon their major, GPA, and club/organization affiliations really increases company awareness and interest.

Stay engaged during senior year

While it’s not unusual for banks to promise good performers a full-time job at the end of the internship, many also lose sight of these students over the ensuing months. This disengagement can leave students open to seeking other opportunities.

  • Confirm contact information before they return to school. Then use keep-in-touch programs, such as emails with company news and updates on projects, to keep students engaged.
  • Be sure they’re hearing from leadership. This can be as simple as a check-in email or text. Even more impactful is a two-way dialogue that allows students to ask questions via phone or video chat, or even an in-person meeting.
  • According to a survey by Points of Light, a volunteer organization, more than half of Gen Z are committed to giving back in their community. If your company is participating in an event, whether it’s cleaning a park, volunteering at a food pantry, or running in a charity 5K, invite the students along.
  • Create an ambassador program where select students are given a stipend to sport company swag such as hoodies, backpacks and water bottles on campus. Encourage them to talk up the organization and provide them with resources and information they can share with their peers.

Interns bring a lot of value to a banking organization aside from their day-to-day contributions. They introduce new perspectives, energize the workplace, help internal teams improve their management skills and strengthen the talent pipeline.

On the flip side, students have a lot to gain from an internship experience, regardless of company size or name recognition. By showcasing your unique differentiators and appealing to what Gen Z finds important, you’ll be in a stronger position to compete for talent in a crowded field.

Terina Matthews-Davis is Americas client director, early careers and campus, for AMS.