How to Create a Successful Internship Program At Your Company

Internships have become a valuable asset to both companies and recent graduates. You can develop young talent and lay a foundation for recruiting sharp minds to work for your company while fostering growth in an inexperienced individual who could one day become a major player for your company. This is especially beneficial for small companies who can use this opportunity to edge out larger competitors by providing interns with opportunities to develop and stay in touch after graduation. While successful internship programs have this potential to be a win-win for both student and employer, creating one might seem daunting. What’s your first step? How do you know if your company can handle an internship program? 

A successful internship requires not only a good deal of effort on the side of the intern, but managers and supervisors must also put in some work to ensure that the intern gets a meaningful experience. Therefore, you need a plan. As with any project, outlining the concrete steps necessary to reach your goal keeps you focused and increases your chances of success. Here are some key ways to efficiently create a successful internship program, where both parties get their needs met. 

Outline Your Program 

Start by asking yourself and other employees what you want to accomplish by starting an internship program. Create a mission statement. Maybe you want interns to learn how a start-up is run, or the daily tasks that go into managing a business, or how a marketing campaign works. Define what your program is about, clearly, so that your team can stay organized when delegating tasks and each applicant will know what to expect when your internship program begins. 

Define Acceptable Tasks 

Think about the double-sided benefit of each task, for both your company and the intern.  Each task delegated to an intern should serve two purposes: to be of assistance/benefit to the employer and be something the intern can learn how to do.  They should be able to find this useful in some way for their future. Internships have a bad reputation of being all about making coffee and running personal errands. While an occasional errand is okay, try to assign tasks that go beyond that. 

Most interns come into the workplace with little to no prior experience. Any filing, copying, phone answering, database sorting, cold calling, pitching, sitting in on meetings, faxing, typing up reports are all acceptable tasks for an intern. You will want to keep them busy so no one feels their time is being wasted or taken advantage of. Outline a list for your company of acceptable intern tasks so that everyone is on the same page and the intern’s workload is clearly defined. 

Learn About Legality

Before you design your program, it’s wise to understand the legal ramifications of hosting interns in your state such as minimum wage requirements, workers’ compensation issues, safety and harassment policies, termination guidelines, and how other traditional employee benefits and business responsibilities do or don’t apply to interns.

The Fair Labor Standards Act dictates that employees must be paid. Interns may or may not be considered employees. For an intern to be unpaid, the intern and employer must clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation, a job is not guaranteed at the end of the internship and the intern’s work does not replace the work of paid employees. In addition, “the intern must be the “primary beneficiary” of the relationship, meaning that the  internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments and provides beneficial learning opportunities.” If the intern meets the definition of an employee, he or she is legally entitled to payment. According to Chegg.com, “employers may encounter legal issues if an unpaid intern is given real work assignments that benefit the company. To maximize the usefulness of your internship program, it’s typically better to have a paid program. This also motivates interns to contribute more to the organization.” Familiarize yourself with legality, consult with your company’s legal counsel and discuss with your team what will work best for the company. 

Understand College Credit 

It’s a common misconception that internship programs for college students are always in exchange for college or university credit. While an internship is a learning experience, whether or not educational credit is obtained is strictly between the student and his or her school. Before interviewing a student, ask them via email if they can receive some sort of college credit or transcript recognition for their internship. The student will have to ok it with their career center at school and then will provide you with an answer. While all this responsibility lies in the hands of the intern, encouraging them to make sure they get some sort of credit/recognition for their work from their school is a good move. 

Once the school tells the student that they are able to receive college credit for the internship, the student will bring in papers for the company to sign. Depending on the school, the papers might consist of a company summary, biweekly evaluations for the employer or student to fill out, and usually some sort of end of internship evaluation for the employer to sign. Just like the legal side of the internship, familiarizing yourself with college credit criteria is important to a successful internship program. 

Establish an Intern Program Coordinator

Having a person in charge of your interns is crucial to building a program that pushes candidates and ensures they’re getting the most out of their experience. The best part is, for small businesses, this position doesn’t need to be a separate full-time position. You could select one or two coordinators who work in full-time roles to contribute around five hours a week to the program. Or you could give this position to an assistant or junior level employee. This person will be in charge of collecting resumes, promoting the position, sorting resumes, coordinating interviews, and providing work and space for the interns. 

Assign a Mentor 

With so much new learning taking place at the start of an internship, a mentor can help the student navigate this new job much more quickly than trying to learn everything on their own. Feedback is a very important part of the experience and mentors can provide an avenue for personalized feedback on matters that extend beyond their work.  Assigning a junior-level employee can help create a relaxed relationship that promotes professional growth and development. After all, if this is an intern’s first corporate experience, they may have questions that they don’t feel comfortable asking their manager. 

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