Sponsoring an Internship as Part of Your Hiring Strategy

One aspect of management that I have always enjoyed is sponsoring an internship program. I have sponsored these programs for software testers, business analysts, and other technical professionals. I love working with college students to help them discover a new field or expand their knowledge in a discipline they have chosen.

One comment I hear is how difficult it is to find good testers. Those of us who live in the “rust belt” region understand the challenges. Recently I watched Erik Davis “CAST Live” discussion on this problem. Click here to hear what Erik has to say about the problem. One option to this problem is to start an internship program that may allow you to fill open positions and help educate people what testing is really about. In this posting I am sharing some guidelines that helped me start a program.

Things to Consider

Before starting an internship program consider the following points in relation to the length of the internship program:

  • Can you identify areas within your product that is easy to train someone?
  • Do you have time to train someone in testing techniques?
  • Can you identify a mentor to work with the intern?
  • Can you provide assignments that are beyond checking exercises?
  • If you do not have time to properly train or work with the intern then perhaps sponsoring a program is not a good idea.

    Job Posting and Local Colleges
    Write a brief job posting of what you are hoping to achieve from the internship and any basic requirements. Contact your local colleges to understand what departments may have students that meet your objectives. Many times they want a job posting to send out to their students. I have found that some colleges are great sources for filling a short-term internship whereas others are better at fulfilling internships with students who are interested in future employment.

    Paid Versus Not-Paid
    Sometimes the student will receive college credit for the internship. Companies may offer an hourly rate to encourage students to apply. I recommend that you pay your interns. Often the college student needs the money for tuition, books, and living expenses. Plus if you define your internship correctly as to expectations and find the right interns, you should receive testing beyond checking exercises.

    When interviewing the students, remember they may not have a lot of experience to discuss so your approach needs to be different. Scale back the intensity of the questions you ask. Spend time talking about the testing field and the role they will fulfill in your company. Most likely they will not know anything about testing. And many people think of testers as checkers. Try to tap into something they enjoy (ie., playing video games, Facebook) and relate it to the testing field. I often start interns with regression testing and easy bug fixes. I let them know their role can be expanded based upon how quickly they learn and their desire to take on more responsibility.

    I usually look for students with good work ethics and show an interest in learning more about our product. If you have any younger testers who may relate to the students, consider pairing them with a more experience tester during the interview. This provides the younger tester with interviewing experience. Plus he may relate to the student talking about his initial experience entering the work place as a tester.

    Onboarding Program
    Review your current testing onboarding program. Identify important areas that the intern will need to successfully complete his assignments. Try to narrow it down to what he really needs to not overwhelm him. You can always provide him with additional training material throughout the program. If you had a younger tester part of the interview process, talk to him about his initial job experiences. What helped him? What would have helped him? The great part of going through this exercsie for an intern is you can expand this approach when you hire testers straight out of college!

    It is helpful to identify a mentor for the intern to ask questions. If you are the manager or team leader you may not always be available to assist him. Having a dedicated contact is beneficial to the learning process.

    Identify Assignments
    Look for testing assignments that are contained in scope and are easier to learn. If your department test reports, identify an easier report to train him. Provide a demo on the report’s functionality and then identify small testing assignments ensuring you provide sufficient guidance. Do not provide too much structure to your training program so you can adjust it based upon how quickly the intern learns. I have found that some interns have a natural appitude for testing and transition into a software testing job. While others may enjoy the internship but will pursue a different career path.

    Have you worked with any interns? How did it go?

    Now it is your turn! What are your experiences, thoughts, or observations?

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