How we started an internship program in the company: the outline and conclusions after three Project Managers’ admissions.

At a certain development stage many companies realize that human resources may be found not only in labor market, but can also be raised internally. That is how internship programs emerge.

In a number of organizations such programs have turned into internal educational institutions, others didn’t quite adapt the idea of this whole thing. In any case, very few of them show their “backstage” inside out, even though, when they do, everybody wins: individuals, companies, the labor market.

In this article we are going to share about how we built our internship program for Project Managers at Acceptic, and how it worked out for us. This material should be useful for managers as it describes a basic framework for building an internship program. Recruiters will be interested in recruitment funnel analysis. Future interns will learn about candidates’ success and failure stories, and what led to them.

Let’s begin with the history and prerequisites to starting a school for interns. Then we will review three completed internships and the tools that were added and used with every new admission. And, of course, we will talk about the “trap” we fell into a few times.

Internship idea

Along with the company development at Acceptic existing PMs’ workload was constantly increasing, and already in two months’ period overtime hours were highly expected. What solved these issues was PMs’ skills enhancement inside the company and the search of new resources.

First thing we faced when we searched for specialists was our company specifics.

Our projects are quite various: web, desktop, embedded, mobile, support. Thus we require qualified employees who can deal with any kind of problem. And since there are few people of this sort and they are difficult to find, we decided to extend the funnel and diversify the risks: seek for people in the labor market and simultaneously raise our own specialists internally.

Our vision and work group

The work on internship program started out on two A4 pages. We identified the vision of the internship – its value for the company. We also put together a list of tasks, necessary for the launch of this “hell machine”. Then we approved the internship within the company and started working on the first admission realization.

In order to conform the activities among departments we created a work group which consisted of managers of all directions, marketers, recruiters and project managers.

Project realization was divided into 3 stages:

1. Launch. We built a webpage on Acceptic website, posted job vacancies on job websites and then selected candidates. For the selection purposes we had to:

  • Write up a testing task;

  • Develop questions for interviews including those aimed at values identification;

  • Distinguish competencies and create tests for their evaluation.

2. Training. We prepared trainings for raising the level of competence.

3. Measurement of results. In 5 months of training, we developed an intern testing.

For the initial stage the first artifact was created — a landing page on a company website. Thanks to that, our potential interns could learn the details about the program.

Our job openings posted on job websites led to the landing page.

Selection process

We created a form on our landing page, which helped us learn more about each intern, their interests and goals. According to the answers, we defined whether it was worth sending a testing task to the candidate. The test consisted of two parts aimed at checking hard and soft skills.

Hard skills were examined with a specific task where, for instance, they had to think over a team, risks and technologies for an e-commerce platform project.

Soft skills were revised through a situation modeling. For example, a customer asks to make amends on a Friday evening. Time spent on this task was estimated at 4 hours. We asked the candidates what they would do in such case.

Based on the results of the test we decided whether it would be of any use to invite a particular person for an interview or not.

At the interview, we thoroughly checked the qualifications of potential interns:

  • hard skills: theoretical knowledge of methodologies, project documentation, motivation theory and risks management strategy;

  • soft skills: based on real cases at work with teams and customers;

  • English language skills – Upper-Intermediate or higher.

A candidate with positive results after the interview would be invited for the internship.

Learning and trainings

The following artifacts that we had created were in fact two sets of knowledge. The first one was technical where all the information about basic stacks of technologies and methodologies used on our projects, was gathered. The second one was general information about company business-processes. Every intern received all of this material for a two-week self-study.

Each student got a mentor who would communicate with him or her on a daily basis, monitor the process of studying the material. At the end of the two-week period, interns would take an exam.

After the exam, the first two months were dedicated to trainings held within the company. Every mentor spent 1-2 hours teaching them. Then the interns continued their learning and worked with the mentors as assistants on projects.

In total, an intern’s path through our program was this:

1. Filling in the application form.
2. Test execution.
3. Interview passing.
4. Exam taking.
5. Internship participation.
6. Starting work as a full-fledged Project Manager.

Our outcome: WinCompass PM 1.0

The first interns admission resulted in the following numbers.

Selection process in numbers

In total, we received 204 applications.


Recruitment funnel: WinCompass 1

Now, let’s review WinCompass PM 1.0 internship step by step in every detail.

In the first stage (filling in the form) we admitted only 83 candidates out of 204, and had them take the test.

The most common reason why some of the applicants were not admitted to take the test, were irrelevant answers, completely unrelated to the vacancy. About 20% did not pass due to high salary expectations. 8% more were excluded because they did not leave a link to their CV in the application form – this was a small “test” for technical literacy and attentiveness. Others were neither thorough, nor careful enough while filling in their application forms.

At the stage of filling the form

At the second stage, we sent out 83 tests to our potential interns. Almost 40% either missed their deadline, or did not send their tests back at all. Over 20% of the candidates did not delve into the details. Others did their tasks illogically, did not consider key moments or did not complete them.

 At the stage of passing the test

At the pre-final stage, we talked to 10 people. In the majority of cases, the applicants were lacking confidence and proactivity while the rest of them had insufficient theoretical knowledge. Four candidates out of 10 were accepted for the next stage — the exam.

At the stage of passing the interview

Finally, we had 4 people left, 3 of whom managed to take the exam successfully and join our team.

Summary after the first admission

Once the first program was completed, we thoroughly analyzed why we only got 3 interns out of 204 applications.

We looked through the entire recruitment funnel and concluded that there were many good specialists with poor English skills. Then we thought that we could afford to accept candidates with a low level of English language, and train them in the process of internship within the company.

However, cold numbers drew a line in our hot discussions. For example, if a person needs to get two levels up – tighten up on Intermediate level and obtain Upper-Intermediate, they would require 300 hours of individual classes. If each class of a dedicated teacher will amount in 200 UAH, every such intern will cost our company $2000.

Nonetheless, in reality no success can be guaranteed even by the most experienced teacher, because learning curve is quite unpredictable.

So, this idea was put aside and we continued seeking for interns.

Our outcome: WinCompass PM 2.0

The second admission was hardly any different in its organization and arrangement. Only we focused more on interviews, increasing their number.

Selection process in numbers

We got 119 applications and as a result only 1 intern, who failed completing the program.

Recruitment funnel: WinCompass 2

One of our internship rules is that it may be over at any time. If, for example, we see that the candidate does not fit us, or he/she does not apply enough effort to learn, the internship program may finish for them right away.

Let’s see how we reached this conclusion.

At the first stage of filling the applications, we admitted 51 people out of 119 for the test. The main reason was that the potential interns provided irrelevant answers. About 6% had high salary expectations. Others did not include the link to their CV or didn’t fill out the form properly.

At the stage of filling the form

At the next stage – testing task – 21 candidates out of 51 were invited for the interview. Over 25% of them did not understand the essence of the task, performed it incorrectly. 7 people sent back their tests after deadline or did not send them at all. 7 more didn’t complete the task, left out the important elements. Others did not provide enough details.

At the stage of passing the test

So, 21 candidates reached the interviewing stage. At the interview we found out that almost 50% don’t possess enough of basic theoretical knowledge, and the rest have a low level of soft skills. In the end, 2 people out of 21 successfully passed this stage and took the exam.

At the stage of passing the interview

According to the results of the exam, only one person passed.

Summary after the second admission

WinCompass PM 2.0, to be honest, was our failure. We meticulously analyzed it and realized that we need to change our approach to a more systematic one in terms of training. That was going to ensure the success both for us and the interns.

With that purpose we developed a detailed plan, scheduled the program by day, included all the activities and descriptions for the mentors and checklists for the interns.

Our outcome: WinCompass PM 3.0

Before the launch of the third admission we had decided that we would check the English level of the candidates from the very start – before the interview and prior to the test. This allowed us to exclude the candidates with an insufficient level of the language at once, and thus save a lot of time at the interviews.

Here’s what we got this time.

Selection process in numbers

We received 182 applications for the internship program.

Recruitment funnel: WinCompass 3

78 candidates dropped out due to the low level of English, while 36 more gave unsuitable answer and 23 people did not have their test because of high salary expectations. A few more people forgot to leave a link to their CV or filled out the form improperly.

At the stage of filling the form

We implemented the new stage with the remaining 29 candidates who spoke on the phone with our recruiters in English. At this point those with poorer language skills were let go.

At the stage of checking the level of English

The next stage was the test, which went successfully for 14 people. 5 candidates did not issue the task correctly or were illogical. Others missed their deadline or did not point out important details. Some candidates did not complete the tasks. 4 people successfully passed the test and we invited them over for an interview.

At the stage of passing the test

We held the interviews with 3 candidates, two of whom, as it appeared, had a low level of soft skills. They were neither proactive enough, nor confident. One more potential intern was not good at basic theory.

Out of four people, one took the exam and passed it successfully.

At the stage of passing the interview

The third internship program is still in progress, therefore it’s too early to draw any conclusions at this point.

Summary after all admissions

  • We started out with an internship that lasted for 6 months, but our interns were doing even better than we had expected, so that period was decreased to 4 months.

  • During all of our internship programs our interns got scholarships.

  • We implemented an English language test for all the following admissions right after filling the form, not after the testing task.

  • With time we scaled the internship within the company. New directions were added – QA, PHP, Marketer.

The framework for building an internship program

In order to launch the internship program within the company you need to:

1. Form a work group. When forming a work group it is important to involve specialists whose work will directly affect the success of the internship: a subject matter expert as a mentor, recruiter, HR, marketer or a manager of this internal project. The list will be changing depending on the organizational structure of your company and on how much you really yearn for this all to work.

2. Describe the vision and make a checklist for the launch of the first internship.  It is highly important to form your internship vision, which could as well be an analogy of the company mission – the best ones keep it clear and short.

3. Approve an internship program with management. Many articles and conferences talk about management approval of various events in the company, so we will not repeat this again. Your major argument, however, would be the vision and the checklist from step 2.

4. Form the recruiting funnel. Depending on how your recruiting funnel is built, the amount of resources that your company would be spending on the search of new interns will vary. You should be especially careful not to turn your day into continuous interviews. Most definitely, you have other responsibilities at work.

5. Plan your internship program by day. The internship plan should be meticulously scheduled by day. This is our way of overcoming the Bus factor – the knowledge of training methodology should not be lost with the mentor leaving. Another specialist must be able to pick up the flag and mentor an intern according to the plan, made up earlier.

Our template seems simple but the specifics of your company will most likely surprise you every step of the way, and you will have many things to work on. If you manage to decrease the length of internship or optimize your recruitment funnel, and organize an extra internship program – this would be a great success. Good luck!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>