Why [Not] Us? Top Reasons Our Students Accepted Or Rejected Internship Offers

With summer nearing its end, summer internships coming to a close, and a new internship recruiting season upon us, there’s a question we’re pondering: what makes a student accept or reject an internship offer?

When considering possible answers to this question, it’s important to remember the generation of individuals that comprise the intern workforce: Gen Z (Generation Z). Frequently, employers are caught up tailoring their internship experiences to reflect/embody their current employees, rather than the generation of talent they are trying to attract. Adding in the new “workplace norms” brought upon by the accommodations made throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, today’s generation of interns have key factors they look for when deciding on an internship, from initial feelings during the interview process to overall compatibility with company culture.

To answer the above question, we surveyed several students pursuing a range of degree types at the Johns Hopkins University. For some, we broke the big question into three small questions, and for others, we had them give us a general answer to “why this internship?”

Questions We Asked:

  1. Why did you accept your current internship position? What jumped out at you that made it stand out over others?
  2. Why did you turn down/not apply for other internships? What were they missing?
  3. What were your favorite parts/highlights of your internship experience?

Student Responses:

Abdelrahman (AB) Abdullah | Software Engineer at Google | Johns Hopkins University, Computer Science, 2023:

  1. I chose this internship over others because it gave me the best opportunity at a successful future; even though they don’t pay the greatest, the potential future opportunities definitely make up for the difference in salary/compensation received as an intern. I knew I would be able to learn a great deal about software engineering but also provide my knowledge and expertise to my team. I’d heard tremendous things about this company, which included their perks and work-life balance, that also influenced my decision. Additionally, in the off chance that I decide to move on from this company in the future, I know that all the knowledge and expertise I gain from my time there will enable me to pivot to another role very easily.
  2. The main things that other companies were not offering was the work flexibility and general care for their employees that my current company offers. I think it’s important to be able to do things outside of work and not just be consumed by your job, and even though it is not that drastic, I took into consideration the reputation of other companies. Lastly, based on reputation and experience, other companies did not show the same level of effort of making you feel comfortable and happy in the workplace.
  3. On the technical side, I really enjoyed my project and the team I was able to work for. I introduced a new feature to the team, which enabled me to learn a lot about Android Development. I also really enjoyed the social aspect of the internship; it was really fun to meet other interns from different backgrounds and explore the area!

Oyeinkare (Karry) Alamieyeseigha | Software Engineer Intern at Anthos EngProd Tooling (Google Cloud) | Johns Hopkins University, Computer Science, 2023:

  1. I think it’s the goal of every software engineer to be able to work at their dream company, and for me – and many others – that dream company was Google. Besides the prestige of working at one of the best tech firms in the world, I have always admired the culture at Google and the impact being made on society through the products and services offered.
  2. I was fortunate to get a lot of offers last recruiting season. They were all for amazing companies but at the time, I felt Google was best for my personal and career development.
  3. I got to work on a product that has a wide reach compared to tools I’d previously worked on in other internships and best of all, it’s all Open Source! It was a new experience for me to actively contribute to a powerful open-source tool in such manner and to work with new technologies. I also got to experience an in-person internship. Due to the pandemic, I hadn’t been able to actually have the software engineer experience: going into the office, sitting down with your team, and brainstorming and working on cool stuff. It was an amazing time.

Noor Al-Saloum | Student Researcher at Harvard Amgen Scholars Program | Johns Hopkins University, Public Health, 2023:

  1. Mainly, I wanted to explore a new avenue of research. At JHU, I study mosquito olfaction in the McMeniman lab due to my interest in global health. However, I am also on the pre-medical track, so I wanted to conduct research in a new field with more clinical relevance and where I could learn new skills. The ten-week time span of the internship also felt like significant enough time to allow me to get involved in the research. I was also very excited by the networking aspect the program provided. Besides being at a great university, we had the opportunity to meet other Amgen Scholars from different universities at our symposium in UCLA. Our program meeting also featured talks from various scientists at different stages of their journey that helped provide a lot of insight about PhD and MD PhD application processes as well as general advice about how to effectively communicate science. Finally, the program offered a generous stipend that I felt would support me during my time there, unlike other opportunities.
  2. There was one other program I was strongly considering. This program intrigued me because it had three different components over a 6-week time span: clinical, research, and volunteering. As someone originally from the area where this program took place, I preferred spending my summer in a new city that I already knew I had an inclination for. While they had a clinical shadowing component that I valued as a pre-med, the short duration of each part of the program made me feel that I would not be able to get as much out of the experience as I would like. Focusing on one part for a longer period of time made more sense for me.
  3. Obviously, it was thrilling to be in a great environment for research and a major highlight is how much I not only learned but enjoyed what I learned. In addition to learning new research techniques, I also got to be more involved in mouse work for the first time which I found really interesting especially since I was able to see the results of my experiment in vivo through tumor growth. The exposure and skills the program provided me will definitely shape what future opportunities I decide to pursue. At the moment I aim to use this knowledge and my passion for global health to improve infectious disease vaccinations. I also genuinely loved exploring the city with my cohort.

Michelle Mokaya | Chemical Engineering Intern at Medtronic Summer Internship | Johns Hopkins University, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, 2023:

  1. I knew I was interested in experiences within the biotech/pharma industries. Medtronic’s interview process was pretty streamlined and, as the largest biomedical device company, I knew that they would have a well-established early career programming. The pay was competitive, housing was covered, and the opportunity to work with the Polymers group meant I could really apply the knowledge I’ve obtained as a ChemBE major.
  2. I applied for a few other opportunities at other Pharma and biotech companies, as well as some consulting companies. During the interviews, I realized that some opportunities weren’t a good match because I wanted a more technical experience. Medtronic also stood out because it had a faster turnaround time when it came to next steps in the interview process, and I had an offer by Thanksgiving. Interviewing for these companies can get really frustrating, so to have a secure option before the end of fall semester really gave me a peace of mind going into winter break and spring.
  3. I got to intern with such an amazing team! My manager is a technical VP, so outside of the cool projects I got to work on, she really gave me insights on her career path, the operations of Medtronic from a corporate research perspective, and connected me with a wide variety of professionals at the company. The company was pretty good at creating spaces for us to connect with other people, i.e., housing all the interns in close proximity to one another and groups like African Descent Network, Medtronic’s Women’s Network, and Young Professional’s Network hosting events catered to interns. There was an intern social committee which was supported by the company, and they organized things like Top Golf and a Twins Game.

Additional Student Internship Stories and Testimonies:

“When I evaluated my internship offers, there were several factors I considered including the company’s mission, the compatibility with the culture, and the particular summer assignment’s alignment with my goals. Above all, though, was specifically Medtronic’s broad range of exposure to both the corporate level and the individual business unit level. Rotations at Medtronic could include business development & strategy, finance, upstream and downstream marketing, and portfolio management among others. Their competitors offered more siloed programs (i.e., marketing only, or finance only). I felt to be a well-rounded leader, one must understand several perspectives including a high-level executive one. I was able to present to senior executives towards the end of my internship and the experience was invaluable.”

Jon Ilani (MBA, 2023)

“I accepted my internship offer because I felt like I would learn a lot and be challenged in the role. I knew that taking the internship would open doors for me in the future, and that it checked my boxes for mentorship opportunities, subject matter, and compensation. I also felt like I connected with the people who interviewed me for the role, which showed me that I would fit in with the culture at the firm.”

Maisie Lewis (MBA/MPH, 2023)

“I accepted the internship offer from Abbott for many reasons. They have a well-known and prestigious internship program. They compensated me very well. And offered me the opportunity to work independently on an area I was passionate about with numerous opportunities to network. I turned down an internship offer from Sage Growth Partners because I was looking for experience outside of consulting, in a role more directly involved in the Healthcare Industry. I also had heard that the firm is very focused on policy-work, which I was not too keen to engage in.”

Mehaque Kohli | Abbot Intern | (MBA, 2023)

“Abbott has a first-rate culture that encourages employee development and invests heavily in its interns and employees through ongoing education, international conference attendance, and a healthy work-life balance. Abbott’s pay is very generous, and the company’s medical device revenue is well protected and diversified which is of greater importance to me given the recent political and economic uncertainty. Finally, I loved my work as a product manager in the upstream vascular global marketing division where I was regularly given access to senior leadership to pitch my final summer recommendations.”

Graham Zolkowski | Abbot Intern | (MBA, 2023)

“As a two-time intern at Microsoft, I chose to return because I know Microsoft is pushing boundaries across several tech sectors. We’ve all seen their monstruous efforts in productivity apps like Teams and have been witness to their success in the ever-growing cloud computing space. The ability for Microsoft to keep expanding, the impact they deliver, and the scale of the impact is what had me motivated to return.”

Alejandro Rodriguez Monge | Software Engineer Intern at Microsoft | (Computer Science, 2024)

“As someone with a deep interest in public health and finance, the notion of impact investment, which aims to generate social, environmental, and cultural benefits alongside financial returns is fascinating. I’m thrilled to work with and learn from impact investors at one of the European epicenters of impact investment.”

Yuri Izumikawa | Intern at Triodos Investment Management (The Netherlands) | (Public Health, 2024)

“In November 2021, I entered into a SAIS challenge sponsored by Walmart (Walmart Public Policy Challenge) and presented on supply chain risks and opportunities to members of their Global Public Policy and Global Affairs office and other judges. The challenge illustrated to me the wide range of projects Walmart’s foreign policy professionals work on and the impacts that Walmart, as one of the world’s largest companies, has globally. Having worked previously in the public sector, interning with Walmart’s Global Government Affairs team presented me with an opportunity to gain experience in the private sector and work on issues I care about; it was the right choice and a great experience.”

Erik Silver | Intern at Walmart’s Global Government Affairs | (SAIS)

Main Takeaway:

Unsurprisingly, the overarching themes in our student internship testimonials are compatibility, flexibility, compensation, and professional and personal development. Why doesn’t this come as a surprise? According to a survey conducted by RippleMatch (What Gen Z Wants), the rising Gen Z working population has 4 key pillars they want checked off in any place of employment:

  • An efficient and personalized candidate/applicant experience
    • 70% of rising Gen Z workers reported a positive candidate experience involves timely (5-7 business days) updates in application status
  • Flexibility
    • Over 60% of Gen Z candidates preferred no more than a 3-day in office work requirement or no in office requirement altogether
  • A place with ample room for professional and personal growth and development
    • Gen Z candidates reported professional developments, work-life balance, and sense of community each as extremely important for their workplace
  • Employers that care (compensate well, consider the worker, and prioritize inclusion)
    • About 70% of Gen Z candidates said diversity and inclusion efforts by the company have become more important in making their workplace selection

Throughout each of our student responses and stories, we see at least 1 of these pillars highlighted as either the reason for why they accepted or for why they rejected an internship offer.

When it comes to designing a successful internship program and having the most fruitful talent recruitment season, it’s important to keep in mind who you’re catering to. Laying down hard restrictions, ignoring the wants and needs of your employees, and failing to cultivate an environment that prioritizes worker success and growth (holistically), will turn away the rising generation of talent. In the upcoming internship season, consider a shift towards a more Gen Z-centric recruitment process and internship/workplace environment: one that emphasizes more growth, more flexibility, and more care.

By Angel Odukoya
Angel Odukoya