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Attracting, Developing, and Retaining Elite Talent through Internships

Authored by: JS Irick, Director of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, TruQua

Over the last 15 years, I have had the fortune to work with a number of incredibly talented young people. It is uniquely rewarding to play some small part in their journey and to have them check in from their adventures.

Thanks to the gracious feedback of these interns, I have cultivated a number of techniques that have been valuable in crafting the best possible experiences in my fields (research scientist, strategic consultant). I think these “lessons learned” are general enough that they can be helpful to you in building or refining your own successful internship program.

Have a Specific Goal for the Summer

A large differentiator I’ve found as it relates to recruiting is making sure that prospects know, in simple terms, what they will get out of their summer internship.

For the last four years, I have used the following goal template:

  • Discover if you want to do what we do
  • Build out your portfolio (more on this in a bit)
  • Develop a strong personal brand and internet footprint
  • Receive a glowing letter of recommendation

Laying out summer goals like this allows the prospective intern to weigh the opportunity fairly.  It helps them identify how other potential opportunities will compare. It also begins setting the tone for the summer from day 1 as goals are laid out.

This also provides interns a strong platform for recruitment because it points to the success of prior interns. Discussing how a marketing analytics project helped an intern land a job with the MLB, or how a TruQua employee continued their internship work on cloud BI (Business Intelligence) lends a large amount of credibility.

Think Like an Interviewer

As an interviewer, my primary goal is to discuss a project that the interviewee is particularly proud of. I want to see how they approach problems, structure complicated projects, and overcome adversity. Your internship should give experience in all those areas, allowing your intern to be well placed to seize opportunities when it comes time for them to interview. The actual work they do is less important than giving them a framing device with which to impress an interviewer with their intelligence, drive, and passion.

As an employer, this means we have to find valuable and engaging projects for the intern to work on.  While there may be some boring tasks sprinkled in, my preference is to have one large project for the summer with smaller portfolio-building items sprinkled in.

Towards the end of the summer, it helps to provide interns with some sample interviews with members of the organization. Often times talented young people struggle to communicate their successes. My goal is to help them by providing opportunities to express their accomplishments and become comfortable going over the choices and challenges that got them there.

Build a Portfolio

Just as an artist has examples of their best work, so should interns in other fields. The great majority of young people do not have a portfolio at the start of the summer. My general rule of thumb for the summer is one major project, 2-3 blogs, and a few videos. If the intern is interested in software development or data science, we try to review 1-2 software projects to get them prepared for the presentation.

I try to make sure that the portfolio is aligned with professional goals and covers engaging topics. That way it’s not only representative of an intern’s best work, but also fun for interviewers (or friends and family) to talk about.

Here are a couple of recent examples:


How does Twitter discussion drive movie attendance?


How can we use statistical modeling to predict bike traffic?

This ties into the goal of building a strong brand as well.  Interviewers will google potential hires. If we can turn “Searching for red flags” into “Seeing an impressive internet footprint,” we have given our interns a tremendous advantage.

Help with Architecture, not Details

One of the most challenging, but most important things to provide an intern, is space.  If you define every aspect of their projects, you will stunt their growth. Even worse, they won’t know if they actually enjoy working in your field, and you will lose out on continuing to work with them.

I like to approach this problem by helping with the overall structure of the project. This is what we are trying to accomplish, this is the business value it will generate. I then help the interns drill down to define the architecture, components, and high-level project plan.  I try to be pretty hands-off on the “day to day” work, allowing the interns to come to me or my fellow team members when they need help.

Remember – we are nurturing strong, creative professionals. We need to allow them to struggle and overcome issues. More importantly, stepping back gives them a chance to solve problems from a fresh perspective. I’m consistently impressed with the solutions interns come up with, and so are their interviewers.

From a more focused software development perspective, the value of experience is generally in the architecture, design, and data models. I’m not positive I would add tremendous value from a “nuts and bolts” perspective.

Design High Visibility Projects

Your interns are investing a lot of time and effort in your organization. One way you can pay them back is by making sure their work is seen. This is a lot of fun for your intern with their cohorts and family, helps them interview better, and makes the whole experience more exciting. This also becomes an important point for recruiting and helps you write a letter of recommendation that can be leveraged across industries.

Have them work across the organization

Another big part of an internship is getting the hands-on experience necessary to know if you even like working in a given industry. You can help your interns gain that insight by having them receive a 360-degree view of your business. Working with sales and marketing on their blogs, collaborating with development and IT on their big project, it all adds up to a holistic view of your business.

Let’s be honest, other than catered lunch, baby pictures, a new puppy, or kicking off early on a Friday, having an intern working in the office is the most fun you can have at work. People love to offer guidance and assistance, to feel knowledgeable, and to help interns have the best summer possible.

More than any item on this list, our internship program has been so successful because every single person in the company invests their time and effort into supporting and mentoring the interns. This allows the interns to get the help they need to overcome project challenges and deliver their best work, while simultaneously feeling valued.

If you or someone you know is interested in TruQua’s internship program, please contact recruiting@truqua.com .   Share any fun internship stories or advice in the comments below!


About the Author


JS Irick, Director of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, TruQua

JS Irick has the best job in the world; working with a talented team to solve the toughest business challenges.  JS is an internationally recognized speaker on the topics of Machine Learning, SAP Planning, SAP S/4HANA, and Software development. As the Director of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence at TruQua, JS has built best practices for SAP implementations in the areas of SAP HANA, SAP S/4HANA reporting, and SAP S/4HANA customization.


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