Developing a successful intern pipeline

Jul 09, 2023


The more you make interns feel like a valued part of the team, the more likely they are to stay with your firm long after graduation.

Recruitment is a hot button topic this year, and for good reason. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently 11 million open jobs across the U.S. and of those open positions nearly a million are from the architecture, engineering, and construction industry alone. Even at a smaller scale, one or two unfilled positions can make work much harder for other employees. So how can firms set themselves up for success when it comes to recruitment? One way is by starting an internship program that can develop and deliver your next group of workers.

When we think about open positions, it’s hard to prioritize the future when there’s a need in the present, but ultimately that’s what a good internship program does – it creates a pipeline of future employees. Interns are just the first phase of an employee’s career – they’ll graduate school and become entry-level workers, grow and learn to become mid-level staff, and someday become the next generation of firm leaders.

At BL Companies, our intern program is one of the best sources we have for filling open positions. In the last five years alone, we’ve had more than a dozen employees accept full-time positions after interning with us, and they are all still dedicated employees. It’s not just the entry-level jobs that we’ve filled either. One former intern recently celebrated 15 years with BL and was just named principal.

We’ve had such success hiring and retaining former interns in part because we’ve focused so much time and effort into creating an intern program that works. Here are three key lessons to keep in mind when designing your own intern program:

  1. Challenge your interns. While interns can be used to deliver proposals and pick up lunch, a good program acknowledges they are capable of so much more. When we talk to former BL interns, one of the things they appreciate most is that we let them work on real projects. Letting your interns get real, hands-on experience will help them feel like they’re part of a team they want to stay with. It also means any former interns you hire will have real world experience beyond what they’ve learned in school.
  2. Use the process to set interns up for success. Creating a good intern pipeline takes a lot more than simply hiring former interns. You need a program that inspires and develops your interns into the best version of themselves. You also want to create a program that benefits both your company and the other employees who work with your interns each year.
    At BL, our interns have a set process they go through that helps them be successful in the program and beyond. We assign each intern a supervisor and a peer coach to help on-board them and get them up to speed on projects. Interns go through many of the same orientation sessions that our regular employees do, and they get an abbreviated version of our employee orientation packet, which lays out exactly what interns can expect during their first day, first week, and beyond. At the end of the summer, we ask interns to present what they worked on and their overall experience to the senior leadership team giving them a chance to show off how they’ve contributed and what they’ve learned. And finally, we always have supervisors sit down with interns before they leave to give them feedback on their performance. Interns go through the same evaluation process as employees and gain helpful perspectives on where they excel and where they could improve.
  3. Don’t forget about culture. Research shows that engaged employees are more likely to stay with a firm, but creating an environment that quickly engages interns can be challenging. After all, interns are only with your firm for short windows of time before they go back to school. At BL, we’ve found that the more we make interns feel like a valued part of the team, the more likely they are to stay with us long after graduation.
    How you engage interns in your company culture will vary, but at BL we host an annual “Intern Appreciation Day,” where interns and their peer coaches get together for a fun excursion. We’ve treated interns to everything from a food truck party to a baseball game to bowling. What we do as an activity isn’t important, as long as we can show our interns how much they are appreciated. Additionally, we always encourage our interns to participate in our regularly scheduled team-building events, especially those that are across disciplines and offices. We never exclude interns from winning prizes, participating in events, or being part of the team; and we know from testimonials that our interns appreciate being treated like any other employee.

Interns won’t magically fill all your open positions today, but if you design your internship program right you can fill future positions. Interns don’t stay interns forever, and if you engage them correctly at the start, they can and will become dedicated employees. 

Julia DeFrances is a senior marketing coordinator at BL Companies, Inc. She can be reached at

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