By Hannah Haygood, Campus Recruiter and HR Generalist
I recently got a call from one of our Superintendents, the kind of call that makes my day and fills me with pride. He just wanted to tell me that one of our summer co-ops, who had just finished his first day in a field rotation, impressed him by picking up a broom and cleaning up the site without being told or asked. It was a simple act that made a big impression on the project team. I love to get those calls. I’ve written before about what qualities construction companies are looking for in an intern — but it’s not hard to guess what those are. I think we all want to hire the person who will pick up a broom. The one who is eager to learn and not afraid to ask questions, and more importantly, can learn from their mistakes. But do you know what today’s students are looking for in an internship or company? I’ve spent the past three years recruiting on college campuses across the country, and students often have several choices when it comes to where they’ll spend their semester. In addition, the point of hiring an intern is to hopefully find and start training future employees. So, your company needs to know how to recruit and retain today’s emerging talent. Here’s the 4 most common things I hear from students say they’re looking for when pursuing an internship in our industry. Plus – I asked some of our current interns and co-ops to weigh in with their own opinions and experience.
1. Hands-on Experience
This is something I hear across the board from students we recruit. It makes sense. The kind of students you want to hire as a co-op (the ones who will pick up a broom and are eager to learn) are going to be interested in getting real, on-the-job experience. I have heard from students who chose between us and another company that it ultimately came down to how much time they will get to work on real assignments. This is especially true for students who come to us after internships with other companies where they shadowed employees or were stuck behind a desk all semester. When building your internship program, make sure you’re giving interns several rotations into different roles and allowing them to perform real assignments. Yes, it is more responsibility on the supervisors who have to teach and check their work, but in my experience our co-ops learn quick and usually prove to be assets to the project. In short, the more responsibility you give interns the more opportunity they have to rise to the occasion. Not to mention, you’re investing that extra time into training what could be an incredible future employee.
“I was told I would have a mentor during all my rotations, and I would have a checklist of things I’d be exposed to. I really appreciated being given clear expectations and a learning structure,” Brie Palmer, Civil Engineering student at Auburn University.
“Hearing that many current employees were former interns made an impact on me. It let me know the company was going to invest in its interns and truly cared about them,” Danny Massillon, Architecture and Construction Management student at the University of Maryland.
“I remember the recruiters being extremely encouraging towards me. They validated my questions despite the fact I’m so early in my career and asking ‘beginner-type’ questions. It set the tone for the learning opportunity the internship would provide,” Marley Restrepo, Construction Management student at the University of Florida.
2. Flexibility and Trust
You may have been expecting this, but the flexibility I’ve heard students want isn’t what you might expect. After a year of online classes, most interns aren’t overly concerned with working from home — at least not full time. They want to get out from behind their laptop and into our offices or job sites. They want that hands-on experience, remember? But they do want a company that gives their full-time employees the flexibility to build their own schedules, when appropriate. That means they want to work for a company that trusts their employees and has confidence in their work performance without micromanaging or enforcing a strict schedule. If your company is doing this well, I would highly recommend showing that flexibility off during recruitment. Your internship program may understandably have a more structured approach, but its important students see they can earn flexibility when brought on full time.
“One thing that was emphasized during the recruitment process and that helped in my decision making was the amazing work life balance and family atmosphere,” Matthew Page, Construction Management student at Kennesaw State University.
“My dream job looks like doing something I enjoy and love at a company that is family oriented and understands that sometimes, life happens,” Ellie Robinson, Construction Engineering student at the University of Alabama.
3. Family and Friendly Atmosphere
I hear this again and again from our co-ops. They want to work for a company that treats its employees like family and is family oriented. They don’t want to come on board with a company and be quiet shadows who are seen and not heard. The interns I recruit want to feel like part of a team, both with their fellow interns and the full-time employees. In addition, the interns are looking around at the company to see if employees are friends. Do they care about each other’s’ families? Do they socialize together? This is where team building, and networking events can be a huge asset to both recruitment and retainment. Teambuilding events allow the interns to build strong bonds with each other. Our most successful co-op groups form friendships during their rotations and maintain those relationships well beyond graduation. In addition, company networking events give our full-time employees the opportunity to socialize with what could be their future co-workers in a relaxed atmosphere. It’s an opportunity to show interns what your company culture is like outside the 9 to 5 and let them really start to see themselves as a part of your work family.
“The most important thing I look for in a company is a feeling of family, that treats everyone with respect, and will help mentor you to be your absolute best,” Alex Fratturelli, Civil Engineering student at the University of Alabama.
“The most important factor in choosing a company to work for is the way you are treated. I have always felt welcomed with Hoar and this makes me want to work for this company every day,” Brooks Autrey, Building Science student at Auburn University.
4. Be Yourself
Finally, I hear from our interns that the deciding factor came down to who they felt wanted to show them their company not sell them on it. I heard one intern say that he decided not to go with a company that took him on a perfectly planned-out tour of the office, with specific people clearly assigned to talk to him in a scripted manner. He was more interested in seeing what the office atmosphere was really like, so he knew what to expect on his first day. I think today’s students are savvy to sales pitches and marketing ploys. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from interns we’ve successfully recruited that they made their decision based on honest, casual conversations with our recruiting team.
“I would say company culture is the most important factor in choosing a company to work for. I believe if a company has a great culture that is easy to see and experience, all the other good stuff tends to follow along,” Andrew Storer, Construction Management Student at the University of Florida.
“I really appreciated how thorough the recruiters were while explaining the co-op rotations and program structure to me. They didn’t sound like they were trying to sell the company to you, they were honest and easy going and it really made me want to join the team,” Brie Palmer, Civil Engineering student at Auburn University.
“While talking to the team at the career fair, Brian Benefiel talked about how Hoar does not shy away from complicated projects, and how we actually like to take those head on! It was awesome to hear him describe how the company is innovative and gave me a good idea of what culture is really like,” Hunter West, Construction Management student at the University of Houston.