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Research Summary


Every month we’ll be posting a summary of research that has been done by TopFem members as part of the Leadership Programme (formerly known as the Talent Programme). This month the summary research is done by Esther de Zeeuw, this year’s Programme Manager, who conducted research at the Dutch Heart Foundation.


There are approximately 1 million cardiovascular disease patients in the Netherlands and 107 associated fatalities every day. The Dutch Heart Foundation is committed to increasing awareness among the Dutch population, as well as combating cardiovascular disease. These are the facts, but most people are not familiar with the work that is done within the Dutch Heart Foundation. The image of donation boxes at your front door, or people in white lab coats, often looms large. At least, that is the image I had when I started my TopFem research at the Dutch Heart Foundation.

The suggestion for this research came from Laurence van Gelderen (team manager HRM), as she encountered problems in recruiting interns for the Dutch Heart Foundation. In 2015, the organization employed 155 employees with an average age of 45 years old. Therefore Laurence encouraged her team to focus on recruiting student interns and young employees. When I first spoke to Laurence, she asked me all sorts of questions, such as “where do we have to look to find interns?”, “what do students expect from an internship?”, “what types of projects could interns do at our organization?” etc.

Research Question & Methods

I decided I wanted to write an advisory report in which I could present my recommendations to the Dutch Heart Foundation, based on the research that I would do. The goal of my research was to help the organization in successfully recruiting interns from Dutch universities. Thus, the main research question of this project was:

What are the bottlenecks in the recruitment of interns at the Dutch Heart Foundation, and how could these bottlenecks be resolved in order to successfully recruit interns for the Dutch Heart Foundation?

After the first meeting with Laurence I concluded that there are actually two stakeholders involved in this ‘problem’: 1) the Heart Foundation, and 2) students at Universities. And so I set up a two-sided methodology to investigate both the bottlenecks experienced by the Heart Foundation, as well as the bottlenecks experienced by students. I conducted qualitative research at the Dutch Heart Foundation by conducting 5 semi-structured interviews with team managers and heads of the 5 departments. On the other side, to investigate what the interests and bottlenecks are for students regarding doing an internship, I conducted quantitative research by setting up a survey called ‘Students&Internships’.


During the 5 interviews at the Dutch Heart Foundation I focused on topics such as: 1) what types of internships does the organization provide and what are the terms of employment?; 2) what qualifications does the Heart Foundation search for regarding to interns?; and 3) how does the Heart Foundation currently recruits interns?. The interviews showed that all five departments at the organization were highly positive towards interns with the main reasons being that students in the organization bring new ideas, lower the average age of employees, and help the organization with projects. But during the interviews bottlenecks were also encountered. The Dutch Heart Foundation lacked one centralized process for recruiting interns, and there was no person responsible for gathering research ideas from within departments, spreading vacancies, and – finally – recruiting interns. Instead, each department appeared to have its own recruiting method.

The quantitative survey that was spread amongst students was filled in by 149 students from 14 Dutch academic schools. The survey ‘Students&Internships’ mainly focused on the topics: 1) which conditions and requirements are requested by universities regarding internships at organizations?; 2) what are the conditions that students look for when it comes to finding an internships?; and 3) where and do students search for an internship? The survey showed that most students do an internship in their third Bachelor’s year or Masters which mostly takes about 5 or 6 months. Almost 90% of the internships starts in January/February or September/October, and 60 to 90 minutes travel time to the internship placement was considered to be a maximum for students. Also, welfare work for society (which is done at the Dutch Heart Foundation) is thought to be an important requirement by 77% of the students. And, strikingly, many students from Health related studies stated that the Heart Foundation would be an interesting internship placement for them. Students from (Business) Economics, Marketing, Law and Communication related studies stated they were less interested in an internship placement at the Heart Foundation. This might be because these students also declared not to be familiar with the work that is done within the organization.   

Conclusion & Recommendations

From these results it was concluded that the three main bottlenecks are: 1) no uniformed recruitment process, 2) lack of knowledge among students about the work of the Dutch Heart Foundation, and 3) lack of one person within the HR department who is responsible for all activities regarding recruitment of interns. The recommendations that follow from this research are therefore:

  1. The Dutch Heart Foundation could set up a uniform intern recruitment process within the organization, to make the process, from having an idea for an internship to having an intern that works on this project, clear to all employees within the organization.  
  2. The Dutch Heart Foundation could attend internship fairs for students at universities, to raise awareness among students about the work and the diverse possibilities for internships at the different departments of the organization.
  3. The Dutch Heart Foundation could appoint an Intern Manager within the HR department, who is responsible for all activities regarding recruitment of interns.

At the end of my research, I presented the research findings and advice to the Management Team of the Dutch Heart Foundation, including Floris Italianer, the CEO of the organization. This was very exciting and I was pleased when I recently heard that they have appointed an Intern Manager within the HR department and have set up a uniform recruitment process for interns! I am really thankful that I could do this research, that I was warmly welcomed at the organization, and that I could get to know this friendly organization with great employees!



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