By Ellen Zhang
Chief Marketing Officer
Helping others discover their passions and what gives them energy, has been where I’ve found my purpose in my professional career. As recruiters we are blessed with being in such a pivotal and unique position to help individuals navigate their career journeys while simultaneously growing an organization with amazing talent. That is, in a nutshell, what I am lucky enough to be able do every day with McKinstry, an engineering & construction design-build firm based in Seattle.
In Winter of 2016, I was given the opportunity to take over the college recruiting efforts and internship program at McKinstry. With a background in Student Affairs, I already had developed a love for the college-age demographic and how much potential they had to unlock during this exploratory stage of their lives, so naturally I jumped at the opportunity. That next summer McKinstry launched The B.L.U.E. Program.
Describe your internship program.
We designed our internship program based on four objectives: Build, Learn, Understand, Enrich or BLUE for short. Our mission is simple in that we strive to engage the best and brightest talent and provide them with meaningful experiences that authentically reflect what it’s like to work here at McKinstry while facilitating personal and professional growth through collaboration, exploration and mentorship. In our 12-week summer program, we offer our interns a variety of opportunities to dive headfirst into our business, connect with our amazing teams, and contribute in a valuable way to our company’s mission of together, building a thriving planet.
How many interns you are managing?
Each year we typically host between 40-50 interns across our different offices, from our headquarters in Seattle to Colorado and Wisconsin. Most of our internships are technical in nature, but in the last year we’ve expanded our program to include internship opportunities in areas like business and sales, safety, finance, and even data visualization. As the Program Manager, I have the privilege of working closely with each of our amazing interns throughout the summer.
What are your favorite things about managing interns?
At this stage of their careers, our interns have so much potential that they are in the process of discovering. So being in a position where I can not only watch some of the most brilliant minds grow into professionals, but have a hand in shaping that experience, is why I feel so blessed to be in this role. Not to mention, they keep me young!
What do you love most about your current interns?
I continue to be impressed each day by our interns and the things they are capable of achieving in such a short amount of time. McKinstry, as a company, is very complex and a lot of the projects our interns work on throughout the summer are highly technical, even for our staff employees. One of the things I love most about our current cohort is how fearless they are and how willing they have been to dive right in and be sponges. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing them gain confidence in their skillsets as they realize their own capabilities and strengths.
How do you ensure your interns’ professional development and success?
At the beginning of the program, our interns spend time reflecting on what their goals and objectives are for their internship. Together with their managers, they sit down and identify what it is that they want to achieve and get out of their time with us as well as learning what our expectations will be of them. This allows us to align from day one and then throughout the summer we have several structured check-ins to make sure they are on the right track and having opportunities to work toward their established goals.
Outside of the day-to-day of their specific internship and projects, The B.L.U.E. Program provides additional sessions focused on professional development. These range from The B.L.U.E. Experience – a 2-day event at our Seattle headquarters where all our interns come together to meet each other, our executives and key business leaders – to workshops on resume writing and how to make their LinkedIn profiles stand out. As the program manager, I get to invest in the success of each of our interns and help them grow in their individual career pursuits, not just while at McKinstry, which is why I continue to offer myself as a resource to them even after the summer.
Why do you think internships are important?
Most students look for internships while in college to give them insight into an industry or career pathway that they are interested in before they graduate. They can help narrow down the possibilities for the future, especially when their major or degree is broad and has many different options as to how to apply it. What students don’t realize is how important it is to learn how to thrive in a corporate environment. Often, the first exposure they have to a real-world work setting is through an internship and if they don’t have one before graduating, that transition can be a difficult adjustment for most right after college. It’s important for students to have opportunities to apply the theories taught in the classroom, and internships are some of the most hands-on ways to do that.
What resources are essential for a successful internship program?
Structure and support! Without an intentionally designed program, it’s hard to maximize the value that it can provide your organization. It’s vital to think long and hard about what is important for your company to get out of an internship program and then make sure that the activities and components of the program, achieve those objectives. So, on that same note, having the support of the entire organization – hiring managers, peer mentors, executives – and ensuring everyone is in alignment from day one is key.
What advice do you have for other intern managers?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If your company is anything like McKinstry, your internships are probably in a variety of departments such as Finance, Marketing, Design Engineering and Construction Management. Personally, my expertise or degree wasn’t in any of these areas so you can imagine how overwhelmed I felt when I first stepped into this new role! I kept thinking, “how am I supposed to oversee the success of so many different internships when I don’t know half of what these students even do?” That is when I remembered that I wasn’t in this alone and that there are times when it is just better to ask the experts because after all, engineers and construction managers know best what engineering and construction internships should look like, right? So I would definitely encourage other intern managers to lean on their colleagues and teams when they can while they build out their internship programs.
What are the top qualities you look for in an intern for full-time hire?
When we look for interns, we look for students with strong academic backgrounds, demonstrated leadership and exceptional communication skills. During their internship, we continue to evaluate performance and for those who work hard and impress our teams, we often are able extend offers to join our teams full-time. Besides a strong performance, more than anything we look for individuals who have a passion for sustainable design and want to join in McKinstry’s efforts to reduce waste and do right by our clients, community and the environment.