How to Create a Winning Internship Program

10 min. read

Developing an effective internship program can help your company attract potential new talent and foster young ambitious candidates

Developing an effective internship program can help your company to attract potential new talent by providing students or recent graduates with the chance to gain valuable experience. A strategic program allows you to shape and foster young ambitious candidates who can bring new ideas and promote innovation.


Interns are relatively inexpensive and often become full-time employees. If you are thinking about starting an internship program, read on for steps you can follow to ensure its success.


Benefits of Starting an Internship Program

Many companies of all sizes are already reaping huge rewards from internship programs. Here are some of the benefits of creating an internship program:

· Discover future employees: implementing an internship program creates an ongoing pipeline of future full-time employees

· Test-drive talent: hiring someone as an intern is the most effective way to evaluate their potential as a full-time employee

· Increase productivity: quality interns can make real contributions, freeing up your full-time staff to accomplish more creative tasks

· Gain from new perspectives: new people bring unique perspectives as well as specialized strengths and skill-sets

· Apply the latest in technology and technique: internship programs give you direct access to recent developments because students learn cutting-edge strategies, techniques, and technologies in their field

· Low-cost labor: interns are an inexpensive resource

· Foster leadership skills in current employees: as current employees mentor and supervise interns they will develop valuable leadership skills

· Improve visibility on college campuses: get your brand in front of students and the most sought-after talent will be interested in working with you

· Increase your social media outreach: students are typically social media savvy, plus they are informed about current events, popular culture, and the best social media trends


Create a Winning Internship Program

By developing and working with interns in the workplace, you can foster growth in an inexperienced individual who could potentially become a major player for your organization.

Below you will discover the steps you need to take to create a winning internship program:


1. Recruit an internship program coordinator

One of the most common reasons why internship programs become ineffective and fail is that they do not have a leader with a set vision. Having a competent person in charge of your interns is crucial if you want to build a program that pushes their collective learning experience and ensures they’re getting the most out of their experience. When you're first looking to start an internship program, hire an internship coordinator to create the program and be in charge of its implementation.

This doesn't have to be an outside hire or a separate full-time position. In fact it can be beneficial to give these responsibilities to one or two current full-time employees who already understand how the business operates. You just need to ensure your coordinators have time to focus on their full-time roles and developing your interns.


2. Research state internship laws

Before you start your internship program, you need to understand your state’s specific requirements for employing interns. Some states require paid internships, while others require an exchange of college credit. How your state defines interns will help you decide how to move forward, for example, it can affect minimum wage, compensation, their protection under company policies, and which, if any, benefits they are entitled to.


3. Set realistic goals

You want to avoid creating an internship program that is overly ambitious in what it sets out to accomplish. Set realistic goals for your interns in terms of targets and workload. You should decide the length of the internship and the number of interns you are going to hire at one time, then consider how your interns will work within your workplace.

Interns are no longer just in charge of the morning coffee run and menial jobs no one else wants to do. According to a recent survey, only 8 percent of intern tasks involved clerical or non-essential work responsibilities, with the other 92 percent being spent on higher-level tasks like data analysis, problem-solving, and logistics.


However you decide to incorporate your interns into your workplace, you should be tracking their progress and providing feedback so they can achieve their goals by the end.


4. Develop an internship application process

Before you recruit applicants for your internship program you need to answer the question, what type of intern would you like to attract to your company? What qualities and skills are you looking for? Once you have a clear idea of your ideal intern you can develop an application process that allows them to showcase those abilities. Think about what the interview process will be like and the questions you'd like to ask.


Tip: You may think a cover letter and a resume will suffice when recruiting interns, however, realistically most college students and new graduates don't have a lot of work experience. Try to think outside the box, ask for personal essays or portfolios, examples of their work, or letters of recommendation.


5. Assign each intern a mentor or work-buddy

Once you have successfully hired your new interns and you've learned about their personal and professional goals, assign them each a mentor or work-buddy. Connecting with a current employee will give your interns the chance to develop a personal relationship within the organization and someone to learn and get feedback from.

Your mentors do not necessarily need to be upper-level employees. It may benefit your interns to learn from junior-level employees who have followed a similar path and have similar professional aspirations. This can help to create a relaxed relationship that promotes professional growth and development. Pairing interns with someone closer to their own age can also help them to learn about company culture and form social connections.


6. Keep in touch

It pays to keep in touch with your best interns even after they have left your company. If an intern excelled at your program and is well respected within the workplace, they are likely to be a great addition to your organization when a role becomes available. Hiring a former intern means less onboarding, as they are already familiar with the company and its processes, saving you time and money. If you think an intern was a great candidate but wouldn’t necessarily be a good fit, keep in touch, as they could become clients or vendors down the line.

With the right internship program, you can discover new talent and lay a strategic foundation for recruiting brilliant young minds on a permanent basis. Internships can save your business money, increase your brand awareness, and improve productivity. Take the time to plan a winning internship program that will suit your company and attract your ideal candidates.