10 Ways to Run an Effective Internship Program

Fri, Jun 11, 2010

Human Resources

The purpose of an internship program is to provide an educational opportunity for the future workforce. A successful program should enable students to gain experience in their chosen profession and master skills they can utilize in their future careers. The program is a benefit to employers because it helps them fill unmet needs at a low cost and successful interns make good future full time employees. Here are guidelines to help you operate an internship program successfully.

How to Make Your Internship Program Successful

1. Skip the Grunt Work- In most cases an intern expects to be asked at least once to get coffee or make copies. However that should not be his/her only job. It is best to remember an intern is not your secretary, and that  s/he is there to learn. Try to give your intern specific daily duties or a major project to work on. In the end you will have a happy intern and a smaller workload.

2. Hire the Eager to Learn- Sometimes hiring the student with the most impressive resume will harm your company rather than help it. The student with five internships already under his belt may not be as willing to learn as the intern with no experience. If you hire a student with no experience that is willing to help and learn in any area, you will have a greater chance of choosing a valuable addition to your team.

3. Begin With an Orientation– Before any work is done try to make sure your intern is comfortable within the company. Treat him/her as you would a new employee. If your new employee would go through training, train the intern. Is there a new employee or intern handbook? Make sure each intern gets one. You can’t expect an intern to do well if you have not given them clear orders and instructions from the beginning.

4.  Make the Intern Feel Part Of the Team. – Is there an empty desk or computer your intern can use? If so, allow him or her to utilize it. If you leave the intern standing around doing nothing, s/he will do just that – nothing. However if s/he is given her/his own space to work at, s/he will most likely stay busy. Also try to include the intern in meetings if possible and make him/her take notes. Being left out in the cold won’t help the intern learn anything.

5. Feedback Is a Must-Try to keep an eye on your intern as much as possible. Checking up on your intern let’s s/he know if they are doing something wrong, before it is too late. This is also a good way to make the intern feel appreciated. If you see the intern doing an excellent job on an assignment, give praise for it.

6. Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate- At the end of most internships for credit, the student is required to undergo a job evaluation. However the end of the internship may be too late. If a mid-point evaluation is done the intern will know where s/he is excelling and what needs improvement. This will make things run a lot smoother for you and the intern. It is helpful to have a final evaluation as well, so the intern can see in what areas s/he improved and where there is still room for improvement.

7. Ask Questions- Most of the time an intern will know what needs to be improved in your company before full time employees do. The intern is at the bottom of the barrel and because of this, s/he is able to look at the company with an unbiased eye. Have each intern evaluate the company, telling what your organization’s strengths are and what can be improved. This also allows the intern to feel valued.

8. Provide a Mentor- The area where most companies fail when it comes to an intern program, is providing just one person for an intern to answer to. Normally an intern likes having one person to go to for advice and guidance. However this is not feasible for most mentors or managers who are in charge of upwards of five interns. If the intern is dealt with on more of a one-on-one basis, the lines of communication are open and the intern should feel comfortable working with your company in the future.

9. Have an Open Door Policy- As owner or manager of your company; try to make yourself as available as possible to your intern. While allowing them to stroll into your office at anytime is unrealistic, you should still make yourself seem approachable. At the beginning of the internship program give a welcome speech and provide an email address where you can be reached. Something as small as a meet and greet will make your intern feel part of the company, and will keep him/her motivated.

10. Payment is Nice- Paying an intern on an hourly basis is not feasible for a lot of companies, however providing that intern with some form of compensation is. Life is expensive and employers should remember that when hiring an intern they will likely put in the same amount of hours as paid employees. If you cannot afford to pay your intern at least try to help with the cost of living by providing a lunch or travel stipend, or even buying them a gas card or bus pass. Any help will make a difference, and after all the intern is already working for free.

For more information on building a successful internship program please read this handbook.

By Britany Ruby

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