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Ep 604: Building Talent Pipelines With Internships


Many employers regularly offer internships, but the role of these internships in long-term hiring strategies can be pretty tenuous. So what happens when a company puts internships at the centre of its hiring strategy and proactively leverages this to build long-term pipelines of valuable talent?

My guest this week is Leah Bourdon, Vice President of Talent at staffing and consulting firm ALKU. For several years, ALKU has made internships the heart of its resourcing strategy. In our conversation, Leah shares precisely how they do this and the considerable benefits and value it drives.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The market for recruiting recruiters

• Having a unique focus on entry-level talent

• The employer brand of a career in recruiting

• Training interns during the school year

• Faster ramp-ups and higher retention rates

• Talent spotting

• How are the skills needed to be a recruiter changing

• Training interns in the same way as full time employees

• How will recruiting change over the next five years

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Matt: Hi, this is Matt. Just before we start the show, I want to tell you about a free white paper that I’ve just published on AI and talent acquisition. We all know that AI is going to dramatically change recruiting. But what will that really look like? For example, imagine a future where AI can predict your company’s future talent needs, builds dynamic external and internal talent pools, craft personalized candidate experiences and intelligently automate recruitment marketing. The new white paper 10 ways AI will transform talent acquisition doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but it does explore the most likely scenarios on how AI will impact recruiting. So, get a head start on planning and influencing the future of your talent acquisition strategy. You can download your copy of the white paper at transform. That’s Matt Alder dotme slash transform.

[Recruiting Future theme]

Matt: Hi, there. Welcome to Episode 604 of Recruiting Future with me, Matt Alder. Many employers regularly offer internships, but the role of these internships in long-term hiring strategies can be pretty tenuous. So, what happens when a company puts internships at the center of its hiring strategy and proactively leverages this to build long-term pipelines of valuable talent?

My guest this week is Leah Bourdon, VP of Talent at staffing and consulting firm ALKU. ALKU has made internships the heart of its resourcing strategy for several years. In our conversation, Leah shares precisely how they do this and the considerable benefits and value it drives.

Hi, Leah. And welcome to the podcast.

Leah: Hi, Matt. Thank you so much for having me today.

Matt: An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please could you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Leah: Yes. My name is Leah Bourdon. I’m the Vice President of Talent at ALKU. And that means basically I’m responsible for attracting, training, growing and developing the internal sales population at the company.

Matt: Fantastic. Tell us a little bit more about the company and what it does.

Leah: Yes, great question. So, ALKU is a specialty staffing firm focused on connecting highly specialized, top tier professionals with leading companies within a few different spaces, so IT, life sciences and government staffing industries.

Matt: Now I think you’ve been with the company for a while or certainly in recruitment for a while, how have you seen recruiting evolve over the last few years?

Leah: Yeah. So, I’ve been at ALKU for 13 years, this month actually. So, that’s super exciting. And basically, [chuckles] I was talking about this last week. It makes me feel like a dinosaur to talk about how much has changed since I started. And really the thing that sticks out the most and really what I think a lot of people are just talking about in general these days is the technology.

So, when I was starting off as a recruiter, I would be dialing the phones. My manager would be sitting near me. But there was no ability to dial in, listening into calls. Now we’re able to really do that, and be able to coach up our recruiters so much quicker and easier, because we can dial into these calls to listen in. We were operating off pieces of paper, and now we have all these databases, ways of connecting with resources online. Just so much has evolved with technology.

Matt: Absolutely. To make you feel less of a dinosaur, I was talking to someone about fax machines [laughs] the other day and how they revolutionize recruitment. So, that’s going back quite some time. So, what’s the market like at the moment for recruiting recruiters? What are the talent challenges that you’re seeing?

Leah: Yeah. So, I’ve definitely seen a lot evolve over the last 10 years, especially. But recently, I really think it’s a market for– It’s a talent– Sorry, candidate driven market right now. Talent driven market. The people that we’re recruiting– I think we’re a little bit unique in our recruiting process, because we do recruit entry level. Anyone can come work here, but we really do focus on entry level talent, so we can train them up. But the candidates are really taking a lot more time and considering all of their options. I’ve seen them getting much more input from their mentors, their family members, because we’re recruiting people out of school, a lot of them rely heavily on the advice of their, professors and advisors as well. They care a lot more about the benefits and what’s provided, work life balance and the extras that companies provide these days too.

Matt: And is there an aspect of that about the overall reputational brand of recruiting as a career path? How do you think that sits with the teachers, the parents, the mentors that are advising people?

Leah: I guess when I started as a recruiter, yeah, no one really knew what that was, or it was like a negative connotation. It was like, “Oh, you’re headhunting.” And now, we’ve seen so much more evolve, especially with the colleges that we’re working with for sales programs, staffing and recruiting is sales. And so, there is so much more knowledge at that level of understanding what the career path is and how it can benefit them.

People want to go into sales more. When I got into this job, I didn’t know what it was, and I just knew I wanted to make money. I was really competitive, so I felt like I could be good at it. But yeah, I think it’s definitely evolved in that way towards more of a positive way.

Matt: Talk to us about your internship program, because what you do is quite unique. So, why did you launch it? How does it work? What kind of results do you get from it?

Leah: Yeah, thank you for asking. It’s one of our most exciting things, I think, and something that definitely sets us apart. So, we’ve always had internship program at our full-time offices. During the summer, people are looking for internships during winter break and things like that. But what we realized and what our CEO, Mark, said one day was, “Hey, what if we could train these interns year-round?” That was something that we hadn’t really considered to be able to do.

And so, with our biggest limiting factor to growth, it had always really been attracting, hiring those hardworking individuals. And so, we thought, if we have all these interns from these colleges, can we train them during the school year? And so, we decided to open training centers near college campuses, so that we could continue training throughout the year these interns, and then hire them full time and launch them into our full-time workforce.

Matt: How long has that been running now?

Leah: So, we launched our first training center in 2016.

Matt: Wow. And what kind of results have you seen from it? If that was eight years ago, how successful has it been? How have people moved through the organization?

Leah: Yeah. Oh, I wish I had the numbers off the top of my head, but honestly– I started the first trading center. I think the second launch class that I had, the second group of people that I had start at ALKU full time. Many of them are directors now. Yeah, so they launched, became successful, and then got into leadership and are running their own divisions. And groups right now, which is awesome. What we have seen is a higher retention rate as full time people. So, if you’ve done the internship, you have a higher likelihood of sticking around with us full time.

They also have a quicker ramp up time. So, they get trained as an intern, so that they walk in here on their first day, and some of them maybe have already closed deals or gotten people to work, so they understand the process in its entirety by that time, which is amazing. A training program, training new individuals, it’s costly. And so, we’ve figured out that we can train interns, get them to be successful and then start at the company, so that we’re not–

I think the retention rate speaks a lot there, because we’re able to figure out during the internship whether or not they’re good fits and they do the same. They understand from us like, “No, you know what? Recruiting’s not for me.” Or, “Hey, I love this. Yes, I want to work full time.” So, we’re able to go through that attrition and retention situation in the internship process rather than full time.

Matt: How do you hire people into that process? What are the particular qualities you look for? Is this people from college? Is this people from school? How does that work?

Leah: Yeah. So, we do focus on college recruitment, so we can get those entry level hires. It’s focused around places that have sales programs, working with career centers. But honestly, you don’t even have to be wanting– Sorry. You don’t even have to have a special major or like a wanting to be necessarily in sales. We’re looking for people with character traits. So, people who are motivated, people who are hardworking, dedicated, people who are really interested in doing that fast-paced type of job, we definitely recruit based on character traits and not necessarily, what your major is. I think that does set us apart. We’re not looking at resumes, and going to the bottom and figuring out if they were a specific major or not. I was a government and women’s studies major, and I ended up in sales.


Matt: There we go. And in terms of the skills that you teach them or develop within them, have they changed over the eight years that you’ve been doing this as recruiting’s changed?

Leah: Yeah, definitely. Definitely, it’s changed. We figured out that we can train interns as we would train full time people. And that took a little bit of time. I think we started training them on pieces of the process at the beginning and then realized we can give them more. And why not? Because they’re grasping it, and they’re getting good at it, and it’s allowing them to start with that much more of a background and they’re able to be more successful. When we had interns at the start, we gave them a fraction of the job, but now we’re able to really train them on the full process.

Matt: What advice would you give to companies who are looking to grow their talent in this way, not just recruiting organizations, but any company that wants to take this kind of all year-round structured internship program to grow their pipeline of talent?

Leah: Yeah, that’s a great question. I would say, do it. [laughs] You have to really go all in. We treat our interns as full-time employees. So, that means they get all the fun stuff too, and they’re able to be involved in a lot of our culture here at the company as well. So, it’s really an extension of our full-time base. It takes a lot of time and dedication and patience, because they are a different population. But I think it’s been totally worth it for us. It’s been nothing but positive for us, which has been great.

Matt: And as a final question, we talked a bit about how recruiting’s changed over the last 10 years to 13 years. What do you think is going to happen over the next five years? How is recruitment going to evolve even further?

Leah: Yeah. So, I can’t even imagine [laughs] how it’s going to exactly change. But again, I’m just going to go back to technology. I think that’s such a hot topic these days, specifically AI. I was thinking a lot about this over the past week or so. I think AI is definitely going to be helping us with process efficiency and increasing our abilities with technology. I’m not afraid of it. I think that, we at ALKU embrace technology as a partner. And so, I’m very interested to see how it can continue to benefit us and how we can figure out, how can we do more in this recruiting space with technology behind us like that and how is it going to really help us increase our efficiency and abilities?

Matt: Leah, thank you very much for talking to me.

Leah: Yeah. Thank you so much. It was really fun.

Matt: My thanks to Leah. You can follow this podcast on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for @recruitingfuture. You can search all the past episodes at On that site, you can also subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast, and get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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