Interns

How to Structure an Internship Program

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How to Structure an Internship Program in 9 Steps

If you’re a growing company, it’s likely that you’re looking for new ways to attract fresh talent. Whether they’re recent graduates or current students or talented upstarts, your company wants the best of the best to integrate, train, and grow. Internship programs enable your company to develop people throughout their ambitious beginnings, and eventually transform them into star employees. 

If you’re curious about how to structure a proper internship program, here are 9 steps to help lead you through the process.

9 Steps to Creating an Internship Program

1. Hire an Internship Coordinator

2. Understand the Legal Guidelines of Internships

3. Define Internship Parameters

4. Set Realistic Goals for the Program

5. Create an Application Process

6. Offer Mentors to Each Intern

7. Create an Intern Training Program

8. Conduct Exit Interviews

9. Keep in Touch

9 Steps to Creating an Internship Program

1. Hire an Internship Coordinator

Effective internship programs have effective leaders. Leaders set up the goals, vision, and standards of the company, and prepare young interns for a bright and promising future. When starting any internship program, you’ll need to prepare or hire a good internship coordinator that can both craft the program and implement its lessons and structure. This person doesn’t necessarily have to be someone you hire outside the company—a good internship coordinator might already exist among your management! 

If you believe this program requires a more robust touch, you can split responsibility between multiple employees that are intimate with the needs and operations of the company. Remember, your internship coordinator(s) should be able to focus on their personal responsibilities as well as the full breadth of the program.

2. Understand the Legal Guidelines of Internships

Your state has specific legal guidelines and requirements for internship programs and the treatment of interns, so before you go full-tilt into the creation of the program, make sure you learn them. Do your interns need to be paid? Do they need to be set up with college credits? How are the interns affected by minimum wage? What are their protections? How do company policies affect them? Are they entitled to benefits? Do you have breaks, lunches, rides, tutoring opportunities? 

The more you handle ahead of time, the better the program can be implemented and the smoother the transition will be. Plus, your interns will be more attracted to programs that take care of them from the start.

3. Define Internship Parameters

Since many of your interns will be entering a professional work environment for the very first time, you’ll want to make sure that the internship is welcoming, warm, and informative. Your interns are here to learn about the company, establish themselves in the industry, and develop their personal and professional skills. Make sure you clearly define the parameters of the internship to the individual interns as well as the project manager, and keep up with their progress on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. 

Your internship leader(s) will want to meet with the interns weekly to measure their progress and build camaraderie—it’s important to know exactly what your interns are learning and where development can be helped or altered. Encourage the interns to ask questions about the program, to talk with their coworkers, to admit what they are adapting to or struggling with, and use these metrics to measure the program’s effectiveness. As the interns learn, so will you—if an internship is new to your company, you’ll want to take detailed notes of the entire process so that you can improve it for future interns.

4. Set Realistic Goals for the Program

There’s no doubt that your internship program is filled with ambition and motivation—there are many objectives your company wants to accomplish! Once you’ve decided on the important things such as the internship’s time frame and how many interns you wish to bring on board, you’ll have to set detailed goals for what you expect your interns to do in the program. Do you want them to tackle a major project or help smaller teams? Do you want your interns to shadow other employees, or have a daily routine? 

Make certain you’re tracking each intern’s progress, goals, and accomplishments by utilizing detailed reports. You can set detailed daily and weekly goals, and have expectation check-ups with the project leaders and the individual interns.

Sometimes a little bit of fun goes a long way. You can set up fun internship activities that break the ice and help properly integrate the interns with your staff and culture. Plus, your existing team members will grow more comfortable with the interns and will more readily jump in for mentorship programs.

5. Create an Application Process

When creating the internship, you and your staff will have certain types of interns in mind that you want to attract to the program. While brainstorming these potential individuals, you’ll want to look for people that have the qualities, strengths, skills, and motivations that benefit your company. When looking for interns you might think that the process unilaterally begins with resumes and cover letters, but many young college students don’t actually have much job experience to flaunt.

You can open the floor for a variety of applicant devices: personal essays, letters of recommendation, applications, and working examples. It might be a good idea to enable multiple points of entry into your internship program—you never know who you might attract!

6. Offer Mentors to Each Intern

Your company is filled with strong, talented, hard-working individuals—after all, you hired and trained them! After your interns have been welcomed into the program and had time to acclimate, you’ll want to connect them individually with people in the company that serve as mentors. Learn each intern’s professional and personal goals and ambitions, and then foster strong relationships by finding people within your organization that they can flourish under. 

During your mentorship program, you don’t have to pair each intern with a member of management or a high-ranking employee. Company employees have an opportunity to learn here as well, and you’ll want to pair them with interns that have similar paths, goals, and motivations. Look at this process as a professional “matching” segment—consider pairing interns with team members that have similar social connections, likes, dislikes, connections, and cultures.

7. Create an Intern Training Program

Fresh from college or continuing education, interns do not often have much training or professional experience, and it’s up to you to give them the tools they need to succeed. Your program should exist in educational totality—it should provide the interns with a metaphorical springboard into their careers. 

Successful programs will provide basic skills that interns need to flourish, and it’s important to craft a robust internship training program that not only helps people in the beginning, but sets them up with lifelong lessons and networking details. If you need to modify your program for pandemic response, consider virtual intern events that benefit everyone long-distance.

For easy integration into the program, you can craft a guidebook that outlines agendas, shows tasks and responsibilities, and makes clear company procedures. Orientations are a great way to help your interns get to know your company, your industry, and each other. Training sessions can provide further education while also providing valuable feedback for management. The mentor system provides help on an individual basis. Regularly scheduled check-ins help monitor intern improvements and shortcomings. 

At the end of the day, it’s important to train your entire team on how to best work with interns, so they know how to conduct themselves in a way that benefits the growth of young minds and builds successful bonds.

8. Conduct Exit Interviews

After the completion of an internship program, it’s important that you learn from the interns as much as they learned from you. Your interns have now seen your company from top to bottom, and there are invaluable insights you can learn from what they’ve gleaned of your inner workings. While interns exist as a part of the business, they aren’t as biased or influenced as your regular employees, and they can yield some surprising and important comments about the structure of your organization. Exit interviews are an important moment of authenticity that should not be missed.

Remember, what you learn from your interns can help you gain incredibly important insights into the true operations of your company. Ask for true, brutal feedback: pros and cons, experiences, likes, dislikes, and what they hope to learn continuing on. Give the intern your tips about progress and improvement, write them a glowing letter of recommendation, and help them feel like they can return to your company and continue to grow.

9. Keep in Touch

How do you personally view your own internship program? Is it a mentoring opportunity? Is it a long working interview? Is it an educational program? Is it a community outreach implementation? Hopefully, your interns will become important additions to your workforce when available, and help grow your company. When you hire an intern from your own program there is less onboarding, less training, and more cohesion. They know the systems, they know the people, and this saves you valuable time and money in the long run. 

Even if the intern doesn’t work out, you should keep in touch with all members of the program. Your interns could be potential clients, vendors, or partners. Regardless of where they end up fitting into your company’s life, they’re an important part of it.

How Do Employers Benefit From an Internship Program?

While the internship program is created to benefit the onboarding of new talent, don’t dismiss the fact that you and your company are also going to learn a lot from the interns themselves. Your internship program exists to develop future employees, but it also gives you the opportunity to see what improvements need to be made across your organization. Internship programs are also very cost-effective—nearly half of the interns in any given program will be converted into full-time employees down the road. Interns assimilate quicker than cold hires, have lessened learning curves, and integrate better with the company.

How else do interns benefit their employer?

  • Give professional full-time staff the freedom to pursue advanced projects and goals
  • Endear employees to the company
  • Assist your organization by bringing fresh strategies and techniques to the business
  • Help maintain connections with their colleges and further education
  • Provide modern and youthful tools
  • Help recruit other students
  • Create awareness of your program and company
  • Build and teach a communal work force

Your interns are looking for a place to learn and grow, and you’re looking for fresh new talent to benefit your company in the long term. While structuring your internship program, if you keep in mind that this is a scenario that helps everyone involved, you can create a robust and impactful learning opportunity that has immense financial and professional benefits. Remember, your interns are young people whose minds are still being molded in the world—what you teach, show, and implement will influence the entire workforce of the next generation.

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