Over the past three years, Boston-based 3D printing company Formlabs has grown from 10 to 150 employees. Pretty remarkable, right? So how did it manage to grow so substantially in such a relatively short period time? The answer is simple: a stellar internship program.
In our latest Hiring Hacks webinar, Virginia White, Head of People Operations at Formlabs, shares how her team built out an internship program that converted interns to full-time employees at a rate of 50% during its first two years, leading to some of the most productive periods in the company’s history.
Click here to watch the full webinar, How Formlabs Designed a Growth-Centered Internship Program.
By implementing an internship program, your company could reap similar benefits. Below, I share Virginia’s insights to help guide you, including: why you should create such a program, how to get it off the ground, and how to maintain it:
1. Why have interns in the first place?
Being at Formlabs when it was just 10 employees has allowed Virginia to see its growth through a unique lens. Particularly, she has witnessed the positive effect interns have made on the Formlabs culture, noting “These individuals haven’t been exposed to corporate structure; they walk through the door with tons of ideas and are eager to learn.” If you see others motivated, the energy becomes contagious. For Formlabs, adding interns into the work environment has had this effect.
In addition, having a robust internship program is not only a good way to give back to the community, but also a good way to give students the ability to gain real-life work experience. And on the flip side, it gives Formlabs employees an opportunity to develop their mentorship and leadership skills. Clearly, it’s a win-win.
Since launching the internship program, Virginia has also been able to experience what growth looks like on a rapid scale. (It’s a pretty rare experience to watch 40 new interns walk through the door!). This has prepared her team for building out (and bringing in) a pipeline of future full-time hires. Overall, the internship program has been a great opportunity to see what such a quick increase in headcount looks like and make changes to the company accordingly so that they’re ready when the real thing happens.
2. What’s the process for starting an internship program?
Oftentimes companies just offload the busy work onto their interns. But, this isn’t an effective approach and it’s not a great use of anyone’s time.
The Formlabs people team wanted to do things differently; they wanted the interns coming in to be an integral part of the company's success. But it can often be hard to understand what success looks like and even more challenging to measure it.
For Virginia this began in the recruiting process. While writing the job descriptions, the Formlabs people team outlines which projects will be completed by the interns. Then, during the interview stage, Virginia writes down notes to identify which intern would be a good fit for a certain project.
It sounds like a no brainer, right? Scope out projects before interns join. But, it’s something that’s so commonly missed. Taking the time to really look across teams, identify what’s been on the back burner, and know the areas that could use more hands, allows first, success and growth at the organization, and second, excitement that the intern is supporting company goals. And because you’ve already mapped out which projects each intern will be concentrating on before they join, the intern has real context into what their role will entail. Thus, they can really look forward to making a measurable impact and being an integral member of the team.
Another added incentive is payment. Virginia shares that interns are actually quite affordable. They have lower salary bands compared to full-time hires but are making a huge impact on the organization—and they should be compensated for that. At Formlabs, they know that they will need a certain amount of dollars each year. It’s not a big risk, especially if you allocate that money ahead of time. Not all companies can afford interns, but there needs to be some incentive to show that you’re respecting their time and that what they’re doing matters.
3. What’s the best way to maintain (and grow!) your internship program?
Great, you’ve launched your program! But now what?
At Formlabs, they’re bringing on between 30-60 interns every year not to mention full-time employees, too. They’ve learned that this type of program needs one person dedicated solely to recruiting interns. It can be challenging trying to juggle the momentum of career fairs, recruiting, and interviews while focusing on other internal responsibilities. So if you’re in a similar situation, ask yourself if it’s time to have one employee focused on your internship program as a full-time role.
As you start to see your internship program grow, and there becomes more interns to manage, it’s important to be transparent. This starts with the leadership team. Formlabs isn’t just creating opportunities for interns; employees are also getting the chance to become mentors, helping the interns to develop their skills and, perhaps, acclimate to a professional environment. So to create such a meaningful opportunity for both parties, make sure you’ve set clear mentorship expectations directly with each intern’s director. Then go one step further and share that information with the intern. This way, both the mentor and intern have an understanding of what’s required, when their check-ins will occur, and where to provide feedback.
Another aspect that sets Formlabs apart is that an intern doesn’t have to be a student. Formlabs welcome interns that perhaps are going through a career change. Any age is welcome. (How cool is that?!).
Lastly, when you’re on the hunt for top talent, make sure you’re being strategic but also thoughtful about where you’re putting your efforts. From past experience, Virginia shared that they couldn’t allocate all of their time just to career fairs. It’s quite draining and doesn’t have the same impact of the other opportunities they have. But this doesn’t mean not to go! It just means to be exclusive when picking which career fairs you plan to attend during the year. Virginia found that actually connecting with specific campuses and hosting talks with certain departments allows for more engaging conversations and increased exposure.
Formlabs doesn’t just stop there. It opens its doors for open houses, participates in hackathons, and thanks to the highly engaged interns they currently have, is able to have an effective intern referral program.
Having a stellar internship program is no easy task. It takes a lot of planning and dedication. But the return is extraordinary. You’re able to position your company to a raw set of talent, create relationships with them, and tap into their networks.
Want to dive in further? Click the button below to listen to the full webinar, where Virginia pinpoints the optimal time to start planning for interns, which types of projects are good to give to interns, and the type of impact the program has on internal employees.