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How To Make an Internship Program Successful for Both Parties

Posted March 22, 2017 by Kristin Hoppe in Running a Business 101
Offering a great internship program takes investment and time. But the payoff for both parties can be enormous.

So you’re thinking about starting an internship program at your company — but where should you start? And how will you make a program that is both beneficial to you and the interns you bring on?

According to Karina Nagin, who spent years coordinating internships at the Clinton Global Initiative, it begins with knowing that offering a quality internship experience will take some investment.

“Interns take time and planning and thoughtfulness. However, as long as you do it right, it can be a huge benefit,” she said.

Those benefits can translate into hiring talented and hardworking team members after an internship, to having strong business connections with them years down the road. In fact, a study found that 60% of paid interns received a job offer after their internship.

Karina is currently the Executive Director at Mission: Restore, a nonprofit that provides surgical care to patients in developing nations. She has been dubbed the “Intern Whisperer” for her expertise in creating successful internship experiences.

Read on to learn some of Karina’s tips on how to start an internship program that is mutually beneficial for both parties.

6 Tips for Making a Successful Internship Program

  1. Think About the Internship in Mutually Beneficial Terms
  2. When your company is hiring for an internship position, it’s easy to think about having someone to assist with projects or make your day-to-day a little easier. But both you and the intern will mutually benefit — and perhaps even create productive future relationships — if you frame the internship with both parties’ benefits in mind.

    When starting an internship program, “That’s the mindset that’s important to start with,” said Karina. She explained an internship that exposes interns to a new work environment and is a learning opportunity is also beneficial to the organization. “If you set up that dynamic, you’re starting off on the right foot.”

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  3. Establish Expectations During the First Interview
  4. When interviewing an intern for a new position, a common reflex is to ascertain an intern’s skillsets and eagerness to succeed. But Karina says it’s important to take a step back and see first whether the internship will be a match in both directions.

    “It’s less about grilling them and asking trick questions. Instead, set up the interview as a conversation and let them know off the bat if it’s a fit,” she said.

    Ask yourself, will the internship be administrative? Will there be really tight deadlines, or high expectations on deliverables? Let the interviewee know whether you expect them to work independently or if there’s not a lot of hierarchy in the company. Startup internships will likely be different than internships with a long-established company.

    “A lot of the time, interns don’t know what they’re looking for,” said Karina, “so it’s important to find the right match.”

  5. Set Up Your Intern For Success With a Smooth Onboarding Process
  6. Setting up an intern for success does take time and effort — but it’s worth it in the long run. According to Karina, this is the part people often skip over because they’re really busy.

    “Often times for interns, this could be their first time in an office environment.” Like you would for any of your employees, invest time in interns to help them understand the organizations and operations, along with norms and expectations.

    Although these concepts may seem simple to you, they may be brand new to your intern. Here is a short list of company day-to-day knowledge you can help your intern understand:

    • Making and syncing calendar invites
    • Setting up email on Outlook or Gmail
    • Basic email etiquette
    • Basic meeting etiquette
    • Using phone conference lines
    • Learning conference room names
    • Setting up a schedule
    • Creating expectations around hours

    Best of all, all this knowledge can be shared in a half hour or hour-long meeting, so your interns aren’t intimidated by office etiquette.

    Also, says Karina, be sure to create expectations around office hours and work schedules in general. “Interns might be part time or flexible. Set up a really clear concept of what their schedule is, or who to call if you’re not going to be in on those hours.”

    That way, misunderstandings won’t turn into something more frustrating or derailing.

  7. Outline Projects with Tangible End Goals
  8. Whether you have one intern or 20, it’s important for each person to understand how their business internship is contributing to the company’s bigger picture.

    “A lot of the time, interns don’t know what they’re looking for, so it’s important to find the right match."

    Try to sit down and create a plan together, by outlining specific projects and deliverables throughout the course of the internship.

    “It’s really helpful for the self-esteem of the interns because they can see the concrete projects they’re contributing to the organization,” said Karina.

    Maybe you’ll decide on one project an intern is in charge of researching, or discuss which general area an intern will be responsible for. For example, a social media intern may be in charge of posting to account twice a week, where they can take ownership and have new ideas.

    “It’s important to clarify the difference between contributing [to something] or having the freedom over a [certain domain],” said Karina. When you’re clear about expectations and set an intern up for success, “you get a higher quality product and more investment from the intern,” she said.

  9. Loop Interns Into Regular Meetings
  10. The best way to expose interns to different parts of the company is through employees on other teams.

    “Sometimes we get so sick of sitting in meetings, we forget how cool it is to be an intern and included in that,” said Karina.

    This tip sounds basic, but a surprising amount of people don’t even consider looping their interns in on day-to-day meetings. It’s also a golden opportunity for interns to spend time around senior leadership.

    “We forget how excited they are when they’re included,” she said. “It’s an easy way to make [the internship] educational, and it’s a really easy lift for the organization.”

    Your intern can take notes or just sit in — but she’ll surely be soaking up new information and learning secondhand how to make a good presentation or keep a meeting on schedule.

  11. Create a Work Plan With Regular Check-Ins
  12. “Set it and forget it” is a careless approach to working with interns — especially when this is the first real work experience for many of them.

    “The biggest danger is people bring on interns and don’t invest in them for success and give them busy work,” said Karina. “It’s been my experience that when you’re hiring smart and creative people, they learn quickly, but really need that feedback.”

    The solution is quite simple: put some time on your calendar early on to check in on progress and give feedback. Depending on how often your intern is in the office, that could be a weekly check-in or midway through the internship to check out progress on a project.

    “A scheduled feedback process [...] is a good opportunity to course correct anything that might be going off the rails,” said Karina. “Usually the interns are responsive to it and grateful for that.”

    This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.