Six elements of a successful internship program


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Six elements of a successful internship program

One of the founders of Charles River Associates (CRA) wrote, “Our goal for CRA was to build a bridge between academia and the world of business and government, where we would bring the developing technology of academia, especially in the then-burgeoning area of quantitative methods in economics, to the real world”.

Building upon that foundation, we have maintained deep relationships with academic institutions—including a long history of hosting undergraduate and graduate students as interns.

In recent years, we have taken a fresh look at our intern program. Almost 50% of our new full-time hires come from on-campus recruitment efforts, and we have found that an intern experience can help both sides make a more informed decision about whether CRA will be the right fit for a full-time offer.  Interns spend six-to-ten weeks getting to know our work, team structure, and culture.  In turn, we have an opportunity to see their analytical, leadership, and teamwork skills through real project experiences. 

In order to create a “best-in-class” intern program, we have identified six “must have” elements—the work, feedback, social opportunities, networking, training, and firm connection.

1. The work—The number one driver of the intern experience is meaningful project work.  Each spring, Human Capital meets with our hiring managers to discuss available project work and identify tasks interns will be responsible for.  Through the summer, we provide additional opportunities and ideas for participation—such as marketing efforts—to round out their project experience.  By the end, our goal is to ensure our interns have an opportunity to see the impact their contributions have made on a project—for example, by participating in a client meeting or seeing a finished client deliverable.

2. Feedback—We hope our interns view their time at CRA as an opportunity to learn and practice new skills, which means setting genuine expectations for their performance and providing real-time feedback.  CRA’s performance management approach is based on employee-initiated conversations, and we support our interns so they can participate in a mid-summer check-in, in the same way as our full-time employees.

3. Social opportunities—Each year, our interns consistently rate “the people” as the reason they return to CRA. To help them build those connections, we create opportunities for our interns to get to know each other and full-time staff in their practice and across the firm. Annual events include Volunteer Committee outings, events like a bowling or paint bar night, welcome and farewell lunches, and other office-based activities.

4. Networking—In addition to meeting each other socially, we want our interns to have a better understanding of the work and expertise of the firm. We host a series of “Meet CRA” lunch-and-learn panels to share project insights and case examples.  The interns also meet with our President and CEO, Paul Maleh, and are encouraged to seek out full-time staff in their office and practice for coffee and networking.

5. Training—Formal and informal training is provided throughout the summer. Each week, we host an internship training event to help advance their skills in topics including Excel and Quality Management. Additionally, they have the opportunity to build analytical skills through our Tech Lab series, which offers both live and webinar-based technical training in tools like Python and VBA. Informally, we provide online tutorials created by CRA employees and we connect them with internal experts to help with software applications. These resources help interns tackle real time problems with resources at their fingertips.

6. Firm Connection—Our interns bring their experiences back to school to share with others. At the end of the summer, we highlight ways to stay in touch, including attending CRA events on-campus, connecting with us through club or career center activities, joining our alumni network, and following us on social media.  We also encourage them to update their LinkedIn profile to reflect what they’ve done during the summer, and offer tips on how they might do so.

A number of these elements come together through our Summer Analyst Intern Project, which is a cross-practice, cross-office case study that lasts the duration of the internship.  This project allows the interns to collaboratively approach a complex problem and present their findings to their supervisors and other senior staff.

Behind the scenes, our intern program is led by Leah, a fabulous manager on our Learning & Professional Development team.  She coordinates closely with a cross-functional team, including Talent Acquisition and Communications, to ensure a well-run, thoughtful, and authentic experience for all of our interns and for the full-time colleagues as well. 

This expanded investment has been supported by our hiring managers, and has met with appreciation from our interns—many return for full-time employment, and last summer we were proud to be among the Vault’s Top 10 Consulting Internships our first year in the survey. 

The views expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not reflect or represent the views of Charles River Associates or any of the organizations with which the author is affiliated.

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