How to Build an Intern Program Persona and How Waste Management Hires Their Interns

waste-management-truckThe following is based on my recent interview with Kellen Baker, a senior recruiter for Waste Management, 7-year expert in university recruiting, and experienced recruiter at Lexmark, Microsoft, and Waste Management.

How to hire students when your consumer brand stinks.

A lot of companies deal with the challenge of having a well-established consumer brand that can conflict with their employment brand. Few companies have as big a challenge as Waste Management: a fortune 200 company with a consumer brand best known for hauling garbage and recycling bins from homes and commercial buildings across the country.

The lessons that can be learned from how Waste Management turns trash into triumph on college campuses are valuable for any university team.

What being the nation’s largest trash hauler really means.

 After my brief conversation with Kellen, I was incredibly convinced that for any student who cares about the planet and most notably recycling; working at Waste Management is probably one of the best destinations for a summer internship.  Waste Management doesn’t just move trash–they analyze it and how recycling can be improved.  They determine what educational materials are needed to help homeowners recycle more and they put together creative marketing campaigns to achieve this. Most importantly they have the finances and scope to make an impact on recycling at a global level.

Taking a more nuanced look at Waste Management’s brand reveals their company as the perfect destination for granola students looking to make a difference on planet earth.

Lesson #1: It’s way more challenging to try and hide or change your consumer brand than it is find out for whom your brand is actually a positive.

Define your ideal intern persona.

In marketing there is a concept of persona building, which involves brainstorming a fake person with a name, dress style, favorite shops, products, and quotes, who in total reflects your ideal user.  The benefits of this process are enormous, as it is impossible to appeal to all customers, all the time and instead by defining a persona you can better inform all your future decisions on how to spend your scarce time and money.

The same process can and should be used by every university recruiting team to better define their ideal student hire.  In the case of Waste Management,

Kellen explained to me that they look to hire “super-granolas” and “true tree huggers” — students who are in their school’s recycling club and don’t mind doing the dirty work to improve the planet.

Knowing this persona is a huge advantage for Waste Management.  It can help them choose what images to put on their collateral for career fairs.  Or perhaps it can encourage them to forgo career fairs and instead spend money sponsoring recycling clubs.  Ultimately, granolas are the perfect fit for Waste Management’s intern program and because of this, they are easier to recruit, easier to manage, and more likely to convert to full-time hires at the end of the program.

Lesson #2: Don’t try to appeal to all students, instead define your ideal candidate.

Maintain Focus. 

Ultimately, the power of a persona is that it helps your college recruiting efforts stay focused.   At InternMatch, we talk to way too many companies whose definition of the best possible intern is simply a student who goes to MIT or Stanford.  This neglects the fact that these students, despite their skills, might be a terrible fit for your company culture.  The end result of an intern who isn’t the right fit is that they stay for a summer and than (than) take the education and skills you helped them develop to another firm.

Being willing to use a persona to say no to candidates who are talented but the wrong fit for your company, is critical for establishing an internship program that gels and drives your company goals forwards.

 Lesson #3:  One of the biggest things we have learned at InternMatch is that no amount of skill can compete with genuine passion and excitement to work for your company.  Use your persona to make more hires based on this criteria than on GPA or skills alone.

 About Kellen

After graduating from the University of Kentucky, Kellen joined Lexmark, initially to help with their diversity programs, and later to lead their college program as it grew from 25 (50) to 250 interns.  Kellen eventually left Lexmark to work on FT recruiting for Microsoft, before joining Waste Management, a Fortune 200 company that is the largest recycler in North America.

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Nathan Parcells

Nathan Parcells is VP of Marketing and co-founder of Looksharp. He has spent the past decade helping students launch their career, researching best practices for hiring millennials (including running Looksharp's annual "State of College Hiring") and sharing these insights with employers. Nathan's work has been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, Business Insider and more. Outside of work, Nathan is an avid rock climber, back packer and Bob Dylan fan.