Businessweek and the Princeton Review have both praised Abbott Laboratories for having one of the best internship programs in the country.
The Chicago-based pharmaceutical and health care products offers internships in marketing, engineering, finance, healthcare, and other areas to college- and graduate school students.
The company also offers great prospects for full-time employment.
According to Businessweek, the health care company hired half of their former interns in 2009.
In the past three years, approximately 49% of the company's U.S. interns were hired into full-time positions.
We reached out to Vildan Stidham, vice president of Global Talent Acquisition at Abbott, to find out what makes the internship program so great. Her answers have been lightly edited and condensed:
BUSINESS INSIDER: Who is most likely to succeed as an intern in your program? What characteristics stand out to you?
VILDAN STIDHAM Abbott looks at internships as an integral and important part of our overall talent pipeline to find and develop tomorrow's leaders. Interns that stand out typically demonstrate strong characteristics in the following four areas:
A clear passion to learn. Abbott's innovative businesses operate in complex markets. We need dynamic people who are always striving to do things better, and differently, and that starts with having the curiosity and drive to learn.
A capacity to grow. We're looking for future leaders so we need people who can, and want to, grow into these roles.
An ability to deliver. Health care is important work; people depend on us to deliver, every day. That's why high achievement is one of our core values – and why we look for high performers .
Relevant experience. Our internships are meant to provide students with the experience they need to be strong candidates for entry-level positions.
BI: What are some common mistakes made by interns?
VS: Today’s interns bring more to the table than ever before. They’re tech-savvy and exhibit a strong comfort level with new media platforms. This has strengthened their ability to multitask and to perform tasks faster and more efficiently. They want to quickly succeed and advance, which sometimes can translate to impatience with how things work in the real world of business.
BI: How do you provide feedback to your interns?
VS: Interns are part of a structured program that augments their day-to-day work with professional development and additional learning opportunities. They are assigned mentors, and take part in online and in-person training sessions on leadership, problem solving, business case studies, careers and other topics.
Through these processes, they’re receiving constant feedback and assurance. Beyond the structured program, interns know that Abbott is an inclusive and open environment. We tell them that if there’s something they don’t understand, it’s better to ask a question upfront rather than plow ahead and get it wrong.
BI: Interns often have to strike the balance between contributing new ideas and mastering the basics. How much emphasis do you place on each? Do you prioritize one over the other?
VS: We set a tone with the interns that all ideas are valuable, regardless of whether they’re coming from an intern or an employee with 20 years of experience. At Abbott, we don’t differentiate between “an intern idea” and an “employee idea.” Our interns are engaged in real work and their ideas are important to our business.
The same rules apply to an intern proposing an idea as a full-time employee: The intern is encouraged to use the team environment and support structures that are in place to help them succeed. It helps to first preview the idea with a co-worker to help frame the idea, then incorporate the idea into a fully built-out proposal that demonstrates the value of the idea and how it benefits the company. It’s important for interns to understand that each brings an important perspective to the organization.
BI: Your internship program is recognized as one of the best in the nation. Personally, what do you think is the best part about it? What should incoming Abbott interns take advantage of?
VS: Our intern program is second-to-none for a variety of reasons. First, we offer real-world work that intersects with students' passion and experience, and the strategic needs of our business today. Interns are not in a silo or a supporting role; they're an integral part of core teams that are accountable for goals and performance across Abbott's businesses.
Second, we provide strong growth opportunities. Our business is growing around the world – so we've invested in and continue to grow our internship program. Abbott's internship program has grown from approximately 300 six years ago to more than 900 in 2012, the last full year for which data are available.
Likewise, our intern program is key to our hiring. In fact, over the past three years, approximately 43% of Abbott's U.S. interns have gone on to full-time positions at the company – and we've seen a nearly 80 percent job offer acceptance rate compared to average rate of 59 percent for other companies.
Third, our interns have direct engagement with senior leaders. Virtually all of Abbott's top 50 execs, including the CEO, meet with interns, every year. There are probably not many interns at other companies who have consistent opportunities to interact with top leaders across a wide variety of functions. Every year when we get the interns together for Intern Week in Chicago, we hear stories of a senior vice president inviting the interns to their home for a backyard barbecue or of interns presenting their summer’s work to senior management. The access is truly unrivaled.
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