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Building a Successful Internship Program

With spring underway, many students (and companies) are eager to finalize their summer internship planning. 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. In addition, 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 internship experience:

Establish a Program or Project Manager

Having an individual (or two) in charge of the interns helps to ensure that each individual has a consistent experience across the organization 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 cohort-wide intern 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 a day-to-day workflow will help provide the needed clarity for their professional pursuits and build a relationship based on mutual respect. Inspire interns through your mission, values, and culture; invite them to know your impact and community you serve.

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.

Encourage and Empower

Invite your interns to sit in on a client call or team meeting and ask their thoughts on particular issues; give them projects where they can take ownership and build skills. With an intern potentially transitioning to work full-time afterward, 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. It is also recommended to revisit intern pay rates based on market trends, including inflation.

Offer Frequent Opportunities for Social Interactions

With 40% of businesses turning to virtual internships (CNBC, 2020), organizations need to be more intentional in finding ways in which interns can meet other colleagues and check-in with their managers. Set an expectation with your teams about how much support is reasonable to provide, and encourage flexibility depending on the intern’s needs.

Give and Ask for Feedback

Candid feedback is often the biggest takeaway for an intern. It is recommended to provide constructive feedback as you would any other employee. Furthermore, asking the interns for feedback about the program experience helps the organization strive for improvements and further enhances intern programs. If the interns stay for a couple of months, it may be helpful to seek feedback during their stay, so there is an opportunity to clarify or adjust if needed.

Stay in Touch

Not only is it cordial, but it can be beneficial to stay in touch. Former interns can become pseudo-brand ambassadors and help establish a positive brand image in their community. In addition, they may become future employees of the organization, and therefore, investing in these relationships can be key to building 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.


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