Why Hire Interns (Particularly in Data Science)?

Kimberly WestFLOCK Notes

As a former college professor, I spent the better part of 20 years telling my students how important internships were for their broader education – it is through internships that students see how textbook theory works (or not) when encountering messy data and complex business problems.

Now that I have crossed the Rubicon into the private sector, I worked with my colleagues to recently hire two interns.  Structuring a meaningful internship is not a trivial task.  Internships should be well-defined, have a clear deliverable at the end, with frequent check points along the way[1].  The student experience should be part content, part technical skill, and part mentorship.  While the benefits of an internship to the student may be obvious, there are important benefits to the organization:

  • A college intern provides younger, upcoming members of your organization with a low-risk opportunity to develop their skills related to managing projects and mentoring people.
  • Students in computational disciplines – particularly in Data Science, Computer Science, as well as Finance and Economics – are learning technologies, programming languages, and systems that were likely not taught just five years ago – much less 10 or 20 years ago. Giving interns an opportunity to demonstrate the skills they have learned in the classroom will not only introduce new concepts into your organization but should reiterate the importance of lifelong learning amongst current employees.
  • Interns will ask “obvious” questions about why things are done a certain way within your organization. In some cases, these simple, obvious questions will shine a bright light on legacy processes that should be revisited because they are illogical, outdated, or inefficient.
  • Depending on the source, 60-80% of internships translate into full time positions. Internships should be thought of as long job interviews – on both sides.  During this time, a student’s technical skills can be more thoroughly vetted, but more importantly the student and the organization can assess if there is a good cultural fit.

Well-structured internships can – and should – be mutually beneficial.  However, as your organization considers hiring interns, remember that these are young people with nascent skills and any internship should be approached with a heart of humility and an altruistic intent – we all had to start somewhere.

For more information about Flock Specialty Finance, contact Jennifer Lewis Priestley, CDO (jpriestley@flockfinance.com)

[1] For best practices related to university/private sector collaboration at the undergraduate, masters, and doctoral levels, see “Closing the Analytics Talent Gap: An Executive’s Guide to Working with Universities”.