Building a Successful Internship Program

With spring underway, many students (and companies) are eager to finalize their summer internships. Internship programs, when thoughtfully conducted, can have symbiotic benefits for the individual and the hosting organization because they can develop young talent and lay a foundation for future recruitment. Small and medium-sized businesses can potentially edge out larger, often more recognized competitors by providing interns with opportunities to develop, stay connected, and have a lasting impression.

Below are some best practices to help ensure a positive experience:

Establish a program or project manager – Having an individual (or two) in charge of the interns helps to ensure that each individual is having a consistent experience across the organizations and with the different managers. In addition, a program/project manager can be a valuable resource in helping to team-build through:

o Serving as a steward in making learning & development a daily commitment;

o Hosting intern cohort-wide social events to connect interns and enhance camaraderie; and

o Assisting in providing a broader perspective of the business (such as helping integrate interns into the company culture).

Provide meaningful work – Despite their relative lack of experience, interns should be treated like professionals and colleagues. Presenting a realistic impression of what a day-to-day workflow may look like will help provide the needed clarity for their professional pursuits and build a relationship based on mutual respect.

Set goals – To help the interns feel like they have gotten a holistic experience, enable them to start an assignment and see it to completion. Creating realistic goals is a crucial step in development, and tracking such initiatives can add a necessary closure to a fulfilling experience overall.

Encourage and empower – Invite your interns to sit in on a client call or team meeting and ask them what their thoughts are on particular issues; give them projects where they can take ownership and build skills. With an intern potentially returning to work full-time, building a foundation for critical thinking and understanding the ecosystem unique to your organization can help ensure success.

Consider rewards – While many would take an internship opportunity for the experience and exposure alone, unpaid internships may be unrealistic for students from low-income backgrounds who often need to take paid opportunities – which presents a loss for both the individual and the organization.

Give/ask for feedback – Candid feedback is often the biggest takeaway for an intern. As such, it is recommended to provide constructive feedback as you would any other employee. Furthermore, asking the interns for feedback about the program experience can help the organization can strive for improvements to further enhance intern programs in the future.

Stay in touch – Depending on the individual’s grade level; it is cordial to stay in touch. Former interns can become pseudo-brand ambassadors and help to establish a positive brand image in their community. They may become future employees of the organization, and therefore, investing in these relationships can be key to a recruiting pipeline.

Being thoughtful in the design and the execution of an intern program can significantly benefit both the individuals and an organization. If you have any questions or would like assistance in planning for a memorable summer, please connect with your HR representative or contact Kiwi Partners.