How to Build a Successful Internship Program
By Ula McPretl
Internship roles are prevalent now for young professionals to gain more experience and skills in a particular industry. However, you can’t simply have an intern without first creating a robust internship program.
An internship program is critical to project planning, tracking success milestones, and giving your intern the best possible experience at your organization.
Continue reading to learn more about the benefits of hiring an intern and how to build your internship program for long-term success.
What is an internship program?
An internship is a professional learning experience where a student or recent graduate works for a company for a short time (from a few months to a year). Through mentorship, training, and exposure, an intern gains hands-on learning experiences and learns how to apply concepts they learned in school to real-life scenarios in the workplace.
Why hire an intern?
You may be wondering how an intern could benefit your company. An internship is a mutually beneficial opportunity that can significantly contribute to your company’s growth in many ways.
Here are some reasons to hire an intern:
1.) Fresh perspectives
Interns are typically young (usually in college or recently graduated) and full of new and creative ideas. They are fueled by passion and have just learned the latest best practices in the field, so they can offer a fresh look at the company and contribute by brainstorming and sharing ideas and suggestions. Employing a young mind can instill new perspectives into your business, spark creativity and generate innovative solutions.
2.) Boost productivity
One of the most significant advantages of employing an intern is to gain extra help around the office. Maybe there is a project you’ve meant to finish but haven’t had the time or ability to prioritize; well, an intern does! Delegating these projects to your intern allows you to complete tasks you haven’t been able to finish. Even delegating small parts of large projects to your intern can significantly lighten your staff’s workload and allow them to work on other things. Your intern will be thrilled to work on various projects, and their passion for the industry will drive them to produce the best quality work possible.
3.) Leadership opportunities
Hiring an intern allows your employees to serve as mentors, take on leadership roles, and thus learn valuable leadership skills through supervising, guiding, and assisting your intern. These opportunities can motivate employees to step up as positive role models and feel empowered and passionate about their work, allowing you to see who has leadership potential.
4.) Technological advantages
Interns tend to be very technologically proficient and can offer valuable insights and knowledge to contribute to the company’s growth. Their technological skills can improve your business’ software, techniques, and strategies and contribute to the company’s social media presence. If your company does not have a marketing or social media manager, take advantage of an intern’s understanding of social media trends and best practices to help improve your online presence.
What is an intern looking for?
An intern is seeking a hands-on learning experience that will allow them to learn new skills and provide them with the opportunity for career exploration, skill development, and mentorship. Most interns want to work somewhere that offers meaningful, practical work related to their studies and interests, allowing them to gain real work experience and make meaningful contributions to the company. They also want a mentor who provides guidance, feedback, and receptiveness, which they can potentially use as a reference in the future.
An intern who wants to work for your company is likely thinking about pursuing this career path and wants to explore what it is like to work in this field. The only way they can achieve this is through exposure. This is where having a structured internship program comes into play.
Understand your legal obligations
Before you create your internship program, you must understand laws regarding offering work to interns. It is essential to check legal obligations, including minimum wage, overtime, and state laws. Typically, hiring unpaid interns within a private, for-profit company is illegal, so make sure you know state laws regarding hiring interns.
Creating Your Internship Program
1.) Assess your goals
It is helpful to start by listing specific goals and benefits this internship can provide your company. Doing so can help outline tasks and projects you want your intern to work on. Perhaps you want to use an intern to help with work during a hectic time of year. This can help you select the right time of year to hire an intern.
2.) Plan out your internship program
Next, plan out the specifics of what you want your internship program to look like, including:
- Length and timeline of internship
- Number of interns you will have at one time
- The screening process for hiring
3.) Define your ideal intern
Next, you must decide what you are looking for in an intern. Interns are usually in college and might not have a lot of related work experience, but there are many things to consider, such as:
- College degree or working towards a college degree
- College major
- General previous work or research experience
- Soft skills, such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving
- Relevant hard skills, such as specific technological skills
- References from professors or previous employers
4.) Create a job ad and job description
Now that you have established your goals and ideal intern, you will create a short and engaging job ad with the essential details about the position, including start/end dates, salary, hours, location, and a brief description of the company’s culture and mission. The job ad will also include a section outlining specific qualifications and skills you are looking for in an intern and the duties they will perform. Ensure you also include what they will learn and gain from this experience!
The job description will provide much more detail – it will include a summary of the internship program and what the intern can expect to learn and gain from the internship. It will also list the essential duties and responsibilities of the intern, listing all the potential projects, tasks, and shadowing opportunities you anticipate for the intern. The job description should include specific requirements, such as education, soft and hard skills, and particular physical requirements of the job, as well as details about the work environment (Is it in person or remote? What are the noise levels in the office like?). A job description is fundamental because it will help potential interns understand what the job entails and decide if it is a good fit for them.
5.) Get support from staff
You should inform your staff of the benefits of hiring an intern and what you hope to achieve. Then, you can find out who is particularly excited and wants to act as a mentor or who would like to involve your intern in their projects. Although you will establish a specific mentor, your intern will likely work with most people from your company at some point, so everyone must be welcoming and willing to share their knowledge and expertise.
6.) Establish a mentor
Even though your intern may work closely with many team members, it is vital to establish someone they will check in with regularly to assess their progress and answer any questions. The mentor will work closely with your intern to schedule and define specific project goals and timelines. They will regularly meet with your intern (ideally at least once a week) to review projects they have been working on, things that have been going well, and any challenges, questions, or key learnings from the week. The mentor should be passionate and excited about teaching and helping the intern develop their skills and understand the ins and outs of the company.
7.) Set up the hiring and interview process
Think about how you want to go about hiring and interviewing your intern. It is beneficial to schedule a phone screening or in-person interview. During this time, you’ll have a chance to meet your intern candidates and ask specific questions about previous work experience or relevant skills. It will allow you to get to know them and decide if they will be a good fit for the company. An interview also allows them to ask any questions about the company and internship.
8.) Internship program onboarding
Now that you have hired your intern, it is time for onboarding, which includes:
- Completing paperwork with HR
- Going over when and how they will get paid
- How to track their time
- Setting up email, accounts, and passwords
- Going over company policies
- Introducing them to the company team and their mentor
- Touring the office and facilities
9.) Set goals and projects
Creating an outline of specific projects and goals you want your intern to complete during their time at your company is helpful. At the beginning of the internship, you should work with your intern to go over their specific goals, what they are looking to get out of this internship, specific skills or things they want to learn, and any projects they are excited to take on. Then you can establish a rough timeline for projects and deliverables you want them to complete.
10.) Schedule weekly check-ins
It is important to schedule weekly check-ins to evaluate an intern’s performance and progress. These should be with the intern’s mentor or a supervisor and can be brief. You will go over specific projects they have been working on, things that have been going well, challenges, key learning milestones, and questions they may have. Check-ins are also the time to give them feedback and include strategies for implementing improvement plans, training, or other approaches to helping your intern develop their skills and advance in their career.
11.) Provide opportunities to learn
Give your intern plenty of opportunities to learn through shadowing staff, attending company meetings, and attending trainings and workshops. These opportunities will help them learn, grow, and develop new skills, which will benefit them personally and translate to their work at your company.
12.) Conduct an exit interview
At the end of the internship, you will conduct an exit interview where you will ask your intern about their experience and give them the opportunity to provide feedback. It is essential to be open to criticism and feedback so you can improve your internship program for the future. You can ask them questions such as:
- Did you feel like you could ask for help? Who did you go to when you had questions?
- What have you learned? What specific things contributed to this learning?
- Did you feel challenged?
- How would you improve the program?
You should also ask your staff about their experience with an intern in the office and if it negatively or positively impacted their workload. Through feedback from your intern and staff, you can make any necessary changes to your internship program to improve it for the future.
Are you considering hiring an intern at your company? We can help you build a successful, dynamic internship program, which can also serve as an intern-to-employee pipeline. Contact us to learn more about how we can help!