5 Best Practices for a Successful Internship Program
HR pro Steve Browne, Executive Director of Human Resources for LaRosa’s, Inc., has more than 30 years of experience in HR, including running internship programs. If your company has an internship program, or is thinking of starting one, Browne offers five practices organizations can incorporate into internship strategies to enhance the experience, both for students and your organization.
Designate an intern coordinator
“Put in the time to make sure the intern is learning and doing well at the organization.”
Don’t welcome interns to the office on day one and leave them to work independently until their internship ends. Before interns come on board, Browne advises that organizations identify a dedicated coordinator, outside of the intern’s direct supervisor, to guide students through their experience. Companies need to dedicate resources to the program to ensure it is a success. “Put in the time to make sure the intern is learning and doing well at the organization,” says Browne.
The coordinator, who could be a member of the HR or recruiting department, will be the intern’s first point-of-contact for questions, help them establish goals and check in throughout the internship. By collaborating with the internship supervisor, the coordinator will help to ensure the intern has a positive learning experience.
While many colleges now require internships, Browne asserts that most companies mistakenly only hire juniors and seniors, assuming freshmen and sophomores don’t have enough experience. He suggests that if a student is interested and excited about your organization, companies should give them a chance, no matter their age. The students’ enthusiasm will carry over into their work, and hiring early provides organizations the opportunity to groom young talent into future employees.
Offer challenging work assignments
“Making interns do menial work doesn’t add value for them, or for your company.”
Is delivering coffee and running errands part of the intern job description? Browne asserts that an intern’s role should be more meaningful. “Making interns do menial work doesn’t add value for them, or for your company,” says Browne.
An internship is a chance to assess individual talents and fit, so offer real, challenging work assignments. Instead of data entry or making copies, provide a project to complete throughout the course of the internship or assign varying responsibilities that expose students to different areas of the business. Browne asserts that the real learning experience starts when interns are faced with a project they don’t understand, so give interns assignments that require research, problem-solving and curiosity.
Teach skills not taught in school
An internship is often a student’s first introduction to the professional world, so teach skills they don’t learn in school. Browne suggests showing interns how to communicate with all levels of the organization and how to maneuver within the company. Developing these skills can impact career development and future success in the workplace, whether at your organization or elsewhere. Encourage interns to interact with employees throughout the company, ask them to sit in on meetings with full-time employees or give presentations about their work, and help them integrate into the organization by holding meet-and-greets with other departments.
Consider the internship a brand opportunity
“It’s an incredible brand opportunity when a student has a great experience with you—even if you never hire them.”
Providing a positive internship experience helps grow your employer reputation; students will share this information with others. “It’s an incredible brand opportunity when a student has a great experience with you—even if you never hire them,” says Browne.
Even if an intern isn’t a fit for your company right now, they may gain more experience and be a quality hire in the future. After the internship is over, survey students to find out what they liked and didn’t, to continually improve the intern program. Create an intern alumni group and keep in touch with former interns by sharing company news, open positions and employee stories, to continue to build your brand among this audience.
Internships provide a learning experience for students, while helping your company build a pipeline of future talent. By offering meaningful work, providing a positive experience and giving young talent a chance, you can develop an internship program that will cultivate the next generation of leaders.
Want more tips to improve your internship program? Download our free guide, From Intern to Employee: How to Invest in Next Gen Talent, to learn how to create a long-term intern hiring strategy and stay top of mind with college students.