In the battle for talent, first impressions can be everything.
Morgan Cullen spent the summer of 2016 working as an intern at Ally Financial in downtown Detroit and found it different than other internships, where the full-time employees delivered warning messages: "Turn back. You're too young to be here."
"That was not my experience with Ally," said Cullen, who double-majored in political science and communications at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. "I wasn't just getting coffee. I was really doing meaningful work."
That experience led Cullen straight back to Ally's enterprise marketing team when she graduated from Michigan a year ago. She now serves as a marketing analyst for the Detroit-based banking giant.
Ally has gotten more strategic about college internships in recent years, going from as few as 10 companywide at the beginning of the decade to 128 interns this summer in Detroit, Charlotte, Jacksonville and suburban Dallas, said Kathie Patterson, chief human resources officer for Ally Financial.
The expanded internship program has been built out of necessity to attract a highly skilled workforce, Patterson said.
Ally company senior leaders developed a learning curriculum that focuses on giving the intern meaningful projects to work on as well as feedback and guidance. Before, Patterson said, "there wasn't an infrastructure."
And like full-time employees, interns at Ally are expected to do volunteer service work in Detroit and other communities where the bank has a large workforce. "That's another way we're assimilating them into our culture," she said.
Since revamping the internship program, Ally has hired 106 interns for full-time jobs in its nationwide workforce of 8,000. About 70 percent of interns return for a second internship, Patterson said.
"It's very common if we have a strong performer, we're extending an offer to them to come back the next year," she said.
The expanded internship program has given the auto and home lending bank the ability to forge new relationships with dozens of universities to recruit from, including Wayne State University, which has helped Ally recruit a more diverse workforce, Patterson said.
Through the internship program, Ally has been able to fill jobs requiring specialized skills that finance majors at universities don't have.
Ally has hired graduates of Ferris State University's mechanical automotive service technology program to work in its vehicle warranty call center because they have extensive knowledge of car parts, Patterson said.
The automotive marketing and management program at Northwood University in Midland also has become a source of interns to work on Ally's auto finance and insurance teams.
Millennial interns at Ally also have been providing the company with studies of their own generation's consumer spending habits — actionable business intelligence that might otherwise be farmed out to high-priced consultants.
"Sometimes we make some assumptions that they're not as capable," Patterson said. "We've had to push our managers to say there's nothing wrong to give them an assignment that you'd give a seasoned employee."