07/10/2013 04:39 pm ET Updated Sep 09, 2013

6 Things Your Interns Really Care About

Today, gaining the interest of the best and brightest potential intern candidates involves a lot more than simply offering a temporary opportunity to work for your company. If you're not on par with what students really want from their internship experiences, you're going to miss out on some talented intern hires. Is your internship program matching up to what students and recent graduates are looking for?

It's no secret that internships are on the rise. As an employer, you understand the power interns can have on your bottom line, but as internships rise in popularity, they're also undergoing some important changes. Students are no longer looking for internships in the same places they were in years past -- they're taking on more internships at a younger age, and their interests have transformed.

Knowing what your potential intern candidates really care about will turn your internship program in a new direction. Here's some important insight gained from a recent InternMatch report:

1. Experience. Simply offering interns a desk and a slew of menial tasks is no longer an enticing offer. Your interns deserve a chance to gain hands-on experience, expand their skill set and explode their portfolios. In fact, 58.9 percent of students think gaining experience and building a portfolio is the most important aspect of an internship experience.

Give your interns the chance to undertake an overarching internship project during their time with you. Your internship projects should be intern-driven and directly impact your bottom line upon completion. For example, consider allowing your social media interns to create, execute and analyze their own social media campaign.

2. Flexibility. Playing true to Millennial interests, 55 percent of students stated that being allowed to work from a coffee shop just one day a week would increase their odds of applying for an internship opportunity. Students, especially those with strong resumes, have busy schedules. If you're not making a point to accommodate their needs with an increased level of flexibility in your internship program, you're going to miss out on numerous talented candidates.

Inject your internship program with some flexibility by making remote work an option based on your intern's schedule. While you may not be interested in taking a completely virtual approach to your internship, even allowing interns to work remotely a few days a month will be certain to impact your intern recruiting and hiring efforts.

3. Perks. Before you nervously check your intern budget, know that providing perks for your interns doesn't always have to break the bank. Sure, intern outings and events are wonderful perks, but what about putting something into play that your interns can experience on a daily basis? The InternMatch report found that 24.3 percent of students said that if a company has pets in the office, it would dramatically increase their likelihood of applying for an internship position. It may be time to open your doors to your employees' (and your own!) furry companions for a more inviting and motivating environment.

4. Industry exploration. Internships are the gateway for students looking to explore the industries they're interested in. By taking on an intern, you need to be giving them an immersive and explorational experience within your company and within the industry as a whole. Students ranked the opportunity to explore an industry as the second most important part of their internship experience. Give your interns a chance to take on various roles within your company through a rotational internship program. This will give them a 360-degree view of the industry and make them more competitive in the long run.

5. Professional contacts. Today, interns don't want to be crammed in a cubicle in the dark part of your office. Networking opportunities are essential to a well-rounded internship program. Your interns shouldn't just be connecting with each other, they should be given the opportunity to develop professional contacts throughout your company and the industry as a whole. Set up networking events for your interns both inside and outside of your company. Allow them to accompany you to tradeshows, seminars, and conferences when they're not participating in team building events.

6. Fair pay. It's unfortunate to hear 36.9 percent of employers still offer either unpaid internships or internships below minimum wage. Not only will offering unpaid or underpaid internships turn away talented and diverse students, you also run the risk of legal trouble. Don't make your potential interns choose between a fantastic opportunity to gain experience and struggling to pay their bills. Make sure you're providing interns with at least minimum wage as compensation during their time with you.

Get your internship program up to date with what interns really care about so you don't miss out on talented additions to your team.

What do you offer your interns that your competitors don't?

Ashley Mosley is Community Engagement Manager of InternMatch, an online platform connecting the best intern candidates and employers. Connect with Ashley and InternMatch on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.