The Intern Hiring Funnel: From Intern to Full-Timer


At Whole Whale, we love interns. We even wrote a book about them! We know that, when managed properly, interns can be an invaluable asset to any team.
We also know that a strong internship program and successful interns can dramatically improve a nonprofit’s hiring funnel. And, while the idea of hiring and managing interns can feel like more work than it’s worth, implementing a strong internship program within your organization can actually have a tremendous ROI. This is especially true if you treat your internship program as a part of your overall hiring funnel, and direct the energy of these programs towards addressing bigger-picture staffing concerns and finding opportunities to transition interns into full-time roles.
Simply put, a strong internship program can transform a nonprofit’s hiring funnel by lowering recruitment costs, increasing full-time offer acceptance rates, and increasing employee retention rates.

Why Should Your Hiring Funnel Start with Interns?

1. Lower Recruitment Costs

Finding and hiring new employees requires money.  Converting interns to full-time hires costs far less than bringing in brand new candidates — organizations wouldn’t need to allocate any additional funds towards recruiting, training, and onboarding new hires that were formerly interns (assuming that strong internship programs provide a realistic understanding of the organization’s daily work, and have prepared interns to do that work well). Using an internship program as the first step in the hiring funnel will also ideally lead to increased retainment rates beyond the entry-level, encouraging promising talent to stay within an organization long enough to lower recruitment costs for higher-level positions as well.

2. Higher Acceptance Rates

Candidates that have already interned for you are highly likely accept your offer for a full time role, so there’s a good chance that if they can make it through the application process, they’re going to take the job. According to NACE’s 2016 Internship & Co-op Survey, 85% of interns that received full-time offers after their internship accepted the position. Take advantage of these stats! If your nonprofit can sustain an internship program that successfully attracts the type of entry-level employees that your organization needs, capitalize on the opportunity to convert these interns to full-time hires. Returning interns already represent a much lower risk than outside hires due to an increased knowledge of their work ethic, skills, and personality, and their more reliable acceptance rate only serves to diminish general hiring risks even more.

3. Higher Retention Rates

Considering the cost in time and money to hire and train new employees, retention should be a goal of all organizations. Here’s the good news — interns that are later hired for a full-time role stay in that role longer than hires that were not cultivated through the intern hiring funnel. In one study, the 5-year retention rate for hired interns was 51.8%, compared to a 35.8% retention rate for non-interns. Hiring interns for full-time positions can improve a nonprofit’s chances of building and sustaining a strong team.
Improved retention rates for intern to full-time hires can be attributed to internship programs being a highly effective way to test out whether or not a candidate is a good fit for a team. By hiring an intern for a full-time role, organizations are able to onboard someone that the team has already gotten the chance to know. The organization and direct manager know the intern’s strengths, weaknesses, areas of interests, and understand how they interact with the team. This is so much more than organizations know about a typical hire!
These same benefits exist for the intern, too. Interns already have a strong understanding of how an organization functions and, hopefully, had the opportunity to get to know the team, which reduces the risk of job dissatisfaction due to culture fit. And, if the full-time role is similar to the duties of the intern position, the intern has had ample time to identify whether or not the position is right for them.
If your nonprofit regularly hires entry-level employees, an internship program should be a must. A steady flow of successful interns can provide short and long term value for a nonprofit’s hiring funnel. Have questions or intern success stories? Tweet at us.
Hiring interns? Download our ebook on creating and managing a successful internship program!