Investing in Interns: Using a Rigorous Internship Program to Develop Future Employees

bill kochBill Koch talks passionately about Northwestern Mutual’s internship program, partially because the local office that he runs has benefited from the young talent it has developed. But his passion for the program draws mostly upon his personal experience. He is a byproduct of an internship program that is consistently ranked among the nation’s best.

“The results have been great over the last 50 years,” said Koch, managing partner of The Koch Group, a Jacksonville-based district office that also serves clients through locations in Tallahassee, Gainesville, Pensacola, and Savannah.

Half of the 79 managing partners of Northwestern’s district offices nationwide are former interns, Koch said, as are eight of the company’s top 20 producers.
“If we’re going to penetrate the market and service all the policyholders that we need to, some of our best are going to be interns,” Koch explains. “You’re twice as likely to make a career out of this if you’re a successful intern.”

Koch’s district had more than 50 interns last year and he would like to recruit 60 annually. Of those 60, Northwestern would contract an average of eight as full-time financial representatives. Typically, one of five would then remain with the company for more than five years, given the client base they have developed, residual income they have earned, and the experience they have gained.

“If you make it to the end of the fourth year, you’re not leaving,” Koch said. “You’re well on your way to a fantastic career.”
Koch’s district office ranks 36th amongst Northwestern’s 79 nationally for the performance of its internship program, as measured by the number interns that become full-time and their average productivity. Two years ago, it had the second-ranked intern among 2,500 nationally.

The Koch Group has expanded its internship program from 10 participants just three years ago, by adding staff and intently recruiting prospective interns from Flagler College, Jacksonville University, and the University of North Florida. It is now making similar inroads at the University of Florida and Florida State University through its offices in Gainesville and Tallahassee, respectively.

F067 LSW Wrobel Liza 067“Our selection process is pretty lengthy because we believe in a mutual fit,” Director of Internship Recruitment and Development Liza Wrobel said.
The process typically begins with Wrobel meeting a prospective intern through an on-campus career fair or a presentation to a student group, or receiving their resume through a school website. She then puts a candidate through the following process:

1. Interview and aptitude test. A candidate must score at least 70 percent to continue the application process.
2. Applicant presentation. A student must demonstrate how they and Northwestern would benefit from their becoming an intern. “It forces them to learn about our company and our internship program,” Wrobel explained.
3. Industry analysis by applicant. Prospective interns must solicit answers to 12 questions about the financial services industry from people in the business community and then present their findings. Applicants also meet with former interns to learn about their experience and expectations.

Most interns are college juniors or seniors who have demonstrated leadership and success both inside and out of the classroom. “We’re looking at what are they doing on campus that’s more than they have to do,” Koch said.

Koch values drive, ambition, and tenacity because interns must overcome rejection and adversity to succeed in the industry. “Selling an intangible and dealing with straight commission is not easy, so it’s a great experience learning wise,” he said.

Nationally, one of every six Northwestern advisors is a former college athlete, largely because they are competitive, disciplined, and tenacious team players that quickly rebound from setbacks, Koch noted.

A sponsor of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Northwestern recently started a life-after-athletics program that teaches career skills to student athletes. The Koch Group has taken the program to local campuses, which helps it to recruit interns.

Northwestern offers internships in the summer, fall, and spring. Summer internships can be 30 to 40 hours a week, but fall and spring are typically 15 to 20 hours so that interns can attend school classes. Interns must be full-time students, preferably with some flexibility in their schedules.

Interns start by working jointly with professionals, and Northwestern gets them licensed. They must spend all of their time working with a professional for at least the first month or two, before they can gradually assume responsibilities commensurate with their skills and experience.

Eventually, interns can start setting appointments and working toward the goals that they set for themselves with help from a mentor. They are evaluated based upon a system that awards points weekly for measurable items, such as opportunities identified, presentations given, and appointments made. Interns are expected to accumulate 15 points a week.

“That’s how we hold them accountable,” Wrobel said.

Underperforming interns do not continue with the company, and many choose different careers instead.

“They really need to put forth the effort,” Wrobel explained. “You have to be coachable and willing to learn.”

Wrobel indicates that not every intern will succeed, but all will gain valuable experience and knowledge.

”Every intern I have had has grown personally and professionally,” she said. “The growth is huge.”

Being referred to, and meeting with, potential clients is empowering. Koch stated, “If you can do it, and when you do it a number of times, you really build a lot of confidence.”

As a former Northwestern intern who is now responsible for almost 90 advisors, servicing 35,000 households in Florida and Georgia, Koch can personally attest to how far such confidence can take you and just how far you can go.

JimMolisBy Jim Molis
Jim Molis is a contributing writer for Advantage Business Magazine.
He can be contacted at

Making the Most of Internships

A successful internship is one that creates a mutually beneficial relationship. The end of an internship should leave both the internship and the internship program at a better place than the one in which they started.

Want to start or improve an internship program? Northwestern Mutual Managing Partner, Bill Koch, and Director of Internship Recruitment and Development, Liza Wrobel, have some ideas that are sure to be beneficial.

●Get involved. Visit the local university and identify particular majors, student groups, or activities that would be fertile recruitment sources.
●Give real work. Have interns spend time on important tasks. They will learn and grow.
●Provide structure. Set expectations and hold interns accountable.
●Build relationships. You can both determine if they would be a good hire after they finish their internships.

In Their Own Words
Internships are a useful way to provide hands-on training and experience to those who will soon be released into the workforce.

What did local participants of Northwestern Mutual’s local internship Program have to say about their experience?

I’ve learned more in the past 12 weeks than I have in the past two years in school.
–Clayton Putala, Business Administration major at the Citadel

This internship has opened my eyes to what options are out there and how to be a business professional.
–Amanda Sargent, Business and Marketing major at Flagler

I learned a lot about the business, but more about myself.
–Charles “Rusty Hall, Finance major at the University of North Florida

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