Internship programs can be a practical way to introduce new talent to your business, boost productivity and help sharpen your employees’ leadership and mentorship skills.
Here are some key components of successful internships, and how you can create an effective program that benefits your company’s bottom line.
Get clear about what you’re hoping to gain from the internship program. Are you looking to potentially extend the interns job offers? Do you need assistance with a heavy workload? Maybe you want to familiarize yourself with the perspectives of a younger generation.
Once you’ve identified your reasoning behind offering internships, you can use that information to help outline the program. Figure out what your goals are for each intern, and what the expectations for them will be.
You should also consider the long-term implications for your business. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that a bad hire costs the company about 30% of their first-year salary. Internships are an effective way to see if someone is a good fit for the company, allowing you to avoid potentially expensive hiring mistakes. According to research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), about 70% of employers make a job offer to interns, and of those offers about 80% of interns accept, meaning that about 56% of internships turn into career opportunities.
Name a leader
Establishing someone to spearhead the endeavor is important — designate an internship coordinator to take charge of the program. This doesn’t need to be a new hire, however it does need to be someone who has enough time to fully commit to the role.
They’ll be in charge of figuring out all the program details ahead of time, for example: what will an intern’s day-to-day responsibilities look like, who should they turn to when they have questions, and how will they be evaluated in their role? Knowing in advance, and being able to communicate clearly what the interns will be working on is important, and you should consider giving them assignments that can help grow their skill sets.
After hiring the interns and understanding their goals, the internship coordinator can also choose mentors for them. The mentorship roles could be a good fit for entry- or junior-level employees, as they may be able to connect well with the interns and can answer questions about their own career trajectory.
Getting the whole company on board with the internship program can help make the interns feel more welcomed. Consider educating the rest of your staff about how interns can benefit your business.
Encourage company involvement through events such as new-hire panels and staff speakers — can you get the CEO to spend some time answering questions from the interns?
At the end of the internship program, a showcase featuring the work that the interns completed can be a good way to celebrate their efforts and incorporate the rest of the company.
Conducting exit interviews with interns at the completion of their program can be a helpful resource to determine what is and isn’t working. You can use their feedback to make adjustments to the program going forward.
Keep in touch with interns who impressed you. Even if there isn’t a position available for them at the moment, something may open up further down the line. Who knows, they could also become clients or vendors for your company as well.
Here’s how to find the best interns for your program
Offer compensation: Make sure you understand your state’s laws regarding payment of interns. Payment is necessary in some states, while others simply require that the student receives college credit.
Compensation for interns typically starts at minimum wage, and goes up to $25 an hour or more, depending on the intern’s experience and the industry. NACE research found that in 2019 a paid intern with a bachelor’s degree made a mean hourly wage of $19.05.
Paying interns can help to show them that they’re valued at your company. It can also open up the door to including a more diverse pool of candidates from a wider range of socioeconomic backgrounds, as a lot of students can’t afford to work for free. If finding the budget to pay for interns is a concern, consider other avenues of assistance — a grant, for example, could help make ends meet, plus schools will sometimes offer grants or scholarships.
Accommodate needs: Spend some time recognizing the needs interns might have. Housing, for instance, is often a stressor on interns who need to relocate for the program. While few employers are able to cover the costs of housing, whatever contributions can be made are usually much appreciated. If you’re unable to offer financial assistance, perhaps you can help out in other ways like connecting the interns with places to help them find affordable short-term housing.
Can you further accommodate interns by offering them a flexible time schedule? Many students consider flex-time to be one of the most sought after aspects of a job.
Strategic recruiting: Career or job fairs and on-campus recruiting are the most effective ways to find interns, according to research from NACE. Job listings on career center and corporate websites, on-campus informational gatherings and referrals from other interns (past or current), were also found to be effective methods for recruiting quality candidates.
Identify in advance what types of qualities you’re looking for in your ideal intern, and incorporate ways for applicants to express those skills during the application process.
When writing a description for the internship position, you’ll want to create a case for why someone should choose an internship with your company over others. Make sure to include information about benefits and incentives, and any unique opportunities that the intern will experience or skills they’ll learn.