Intern programs are a well-known way for college students to gain the skills and hands-on experience they need to be successful in their careers. But if your organization’s intern program is lacking, you could be missing out on a chance to train future full-time employees,  build stronger relationships with colleges and universities, and improve your intern-to-full-time conversion rate.

Consider your internship program an investment in your company’s next generation of talent. Do your interns have access to meaningful work and professional development opportunities? Whether you’re creating a new program or are updating your current one, incorporate the below eight initiatives to improve your internship program:

1. Be selective

Make sure your internship search involves a rigorous interview process. Look for both soft skills and role-specific qualifications to make sure student interns are not only a good fit for the short-term, but have the potential to be a full-time employee someday.

To ensure your internship program is a good long-term investment, ask up front if students are open to future full-time opportunities. This simple conversation at the beginning of your relationship can help you decide whether to advance a candidate further in the hiring process, or add them to your talent community instead.

2. Be supportive in the office (and beyond)

You ask a lot of your interns — but what can they expect from you? While it’s tempting to throw work assignments at your new hires as soon as they walk in the door, make sure you’re supporting their needs as much as you expect them to support the business.

At the office, set students up for success with a formal onboarding process, a clear set of learning outcomes, access to mentors and ongoing career development opportunities. If there are inexpensive conferences or speaker panels in your area, allow interns to attend and learn something new from other professionals.

Make sure your interns feel supported outside of work too. If they’re new to the city, help them acclimate to their new home. Provide them with local housing resources, transportation tips, city navigation advice, weekend events and anything else that will make their transition from college as seamless as possible. 

3. Hold them accountable

Work with your company’s hiring managers to give interns real projects that generate results. Motivate interns by asking what they’re most interested in learning, and give them meaningful work that will help them understand their impact on the organization. Set specific goals that define what a successful internship looks like, and create a tactical plan for accomplishing them. When the internship period is completed, both the interns and your organization should achieve measurable results.

4. Focus on culture

Gen Z job seekers are looking for a work environment where they can make an impact — not just clock in and out. Make sure your recruitment marketing materials highlight your company’s career path opportunities and values, rather than luring candidates in with free swag.

Once hired, set your interns up for success by embedding them into your company culture. Invite them to all-team meetings, social events and employee resource groups. Give them a sense of community by setting up welcome events with key team members, and make sure they have regular one-on-ones with their hiring manager to understand their own career growth.

5. Offer flexible work options

Remote work is a growing trend, and it will only continue to increase. And according to a recent report, 45% of millennials will choose workplace flexibility over pay.

While not every occupation is conducive to remote work or flexible hours, think about offering it as an intern incentive if it makes sense for your company. While some organizations hesitate to let interns work from home, it’s a powerful way to communicate your trust and respect for employees’ time. If you’re looking to hire interns as full-time employees one day, why not start now?

Provide students with clear expectations, a framework to succeed, and the technology to accomplish their tasks. Work with your organization’s hiring managers to establish consistent intern communication processes and checkpoints so that all interns are held accountable for their results.

6. Create an intern-specific referral program

The students you hire — and even the ones you don’t — are sitting on a potential goldmine of referral candidates. And when it comes to job search sources, Gen Z candidates value referrals from current or former employees more than any other option.

Future candidates are likely to trust their friends’ experiences and reviews, so tap your current interns to fill your talent pipeline. Build an employee referral program that’s easy to participate in, and arm students with recruitment marketing materials like social media posts so that they can easily share their employee experience with others. 

7. Schedule regular check-ins

Give interns a regular opportunity to ask questions, talk about their performance, understand how they can improve, and offer feedback. While a one-on-one with their manager is a good place to start, schedule periodic human resources check-ins as well. These meetings are a chance for interns to further develop their career, provide insight on how your internship program can improve, and ensure they’re getting the work experience they need.

8. Conduct exit interviews

Make exit interviews a standard part of the intern program. Just as you’d follow up with full-time employees before they leave your company, gather feedback on every intern’s experience, from their relationship with their hiring manager to overall company culture. The exit interview is also a good time to gauge interest in returning to your company full-time, and is a prime opportunity to identify how you’ll stay in touch.