Creating Meaningful Internships

Implementing an internship program for businesses small or large can be a mutually beneficial experience. The employer gets an extra set of (sometimes unpaid) hands around the office and an opportunity to cultivate new talent, and interns gain valuable real-world experience to help them obtain entry-level jobs.

What does a win/win look like for both parties? Consider these tips for building a meaningful internship program:

Mirror the Permanent Employee Hiring Process: Handle the hiring process to fill an internship position like the role is for a part- or full-time employee. Develop a job description, carefully screen the applicants and take the time to find the right intern for the company, not just the first one to agree to work for free. As the resumes are under review and the final selection is made, consider the applicant’s potential to work at the organization in the future. Does the individual suit the company’s culture? Do you, as the employer, see long-term potential for the candidate?

Clearly Define the Internship: As with any new hire, it’s important to make a positive first impression at the onset of the internship. Start with an explanation of the daily tasks, and then provide associated training to be successful in the completion of their duties. But also, define the overarching “life” at the company – culture, relationships, etc. – and establish mutual goals with the intern. All of this ensures someone who will, more than likely, be contributing to the organization for less than four months, is potentially enrolled in other classes and may be working a part-time job on the side, can truly contribute to your organization and exceed your expectations.

Give Them Real Work
: While fetching coffee sounds ideal (cough, cough), interns wish to contribute to real work. An internship helps them land a job for which they otherwise wouldn’t be considered. Interns want industry related projects and assignments they can put on their resumes. They want to say with confidence they worked on real problem solving. Furthermore, utilizing interns in real-world business applications is a great way to assess their abilities for company growth.

Designate a Mentor: Most interns are college students with little-to-no previous experience in a professional environment. While interns have supervisors, it is helpful to offer a mentor as well, to help enhance their learning experience. The mentor can identify the intern’s strengths and weaknesses and can be there to guide them through work they might not understand, beyond their supervisor. Having someone they know and feel comfortable with for questions and concerns is a great way for interns to get the help and guidance they need.

Fresh Perspective: In this area, interns can be a company’s next “best friend.” An intern’s creativity and fresh mind can be incredibly beneficial to a business. Encourage interns to think for themselves and offer suggestions. Allow them to ask questions and learn throughout the work process. Provide a comfortable and frank learning environment and they’re sure to blossom, as will the company.

If an organization considers these tips, they’ll benefit from an engaged and productive staff, from senior leadership willing to share their knowledge to hungry-to-learn and contributing interns.

Last thought: Remember, word of mouth travels fast. A company’s reputation for providing an enriching experience will spread across campuses and social media platforms like wildfire. And as for recruiting, the biggest challenge for a truly engaged employer, will be selecting the best intern amongst an amazing group of candidates. For the interns, a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found more than 61 percent of college students with a paid internship in the for- profit sector, received job offers upon graduation. Clearly, a win/win for both sides.