Developing a Successful Internship Program

Business training at computer workstations.
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June is the time when thousands of college students will be hitting the ground as they flock to employers across the country and abroad to begin their summer internships. At this time, students may be feeling a little apprehensive, while employers may be concerned about what they can do to keep their interns busy. Employers should keep in mind the definition of a good internshipin order to be able to set one up for students working with them over the course of the summer.

A successful internship requires not only a good deal of effort on the side of the intern, but managers and supervisors must also put in some work to ensure that the intern gets a meaningful experience. On behalf of students, we are always working with them on things they can do to become a better intern. For example, we talk about the values and skills that employers look for in a good intern. We also talk about workplace etiquette, since the workplace environment is usually much different than what they are used to in a college setting. As a supervisor, you too can prepare beforehand to create an atmosphere where students can learn and hopefully make a positive contribution to the organization. Making an internship a win-win situation for both employers and students is part of the beauty and value of successful internships.

Develop a Clearly Defined Job Description

No one works well with little or no direction. This is especially true for college students who come into the internship with very little experience and understanding of the expectations the employer has for them as an intern. It is with this first step that supervisors can begin the planning process in order to ensure that their interns will be successful. Students want to do a good job and employers who define the work assignments and their expectations of what they hope the intern will accomplish will enable their interns to be successful and be a major contributor when working on company projects. An actual job description can be very helpful not only defining the internship but also when evaluating performance at the middle and end of the actual internship.

Schedule Regular Performance Reviews

Schedule regular performance reviews to provide students with an honest critique so they can measure how they are doing. A good performance review is an opportunity to help then intern learn and gives them a true measure of if they are meeting an employer's expectations. Don’t make the mistake of using a performance review to outline everything the intern is doing wrong. You’ve probably heard of the sandwich approach used when evaluating employees or when giving constructive criticism, so be sure to use this approach when evaluating your intern. This is a very simple approach where you offer your intern praise on work he or she has accomplished so far, then add some constructive criticism to help them to improve, followed by more praise to let them know they are doing well and are meeting expectations.

Keep Your Intern Busy

Developing short and long-term projects for the intern will ensure that your intern will stay engaged and do their best on the job. As employers often complain about interns using work time to make personal calls and emails (plus just surfing the internet or checking their friend’s status on Facebook), interns often complain about not having enough work to do or being given work that is menial and doesn’t engage them in concrete assignments that will benefit both them as an intern and the employer. As an employer, don’t make this #1 mistake of not providing enough work for your intern to do over the course of their internship.

Help Your Intern Find a Mentor Within the Organization

Having a mentor as an intern can really save the day. With so much new learning taking place at the start of an internship, a mentor can help the student navigate the waters of a new job much more quickly than trying to learn everything on their own. A good mentor can be invaluable for interns just learning the ins and outs of the trade.

Make Sure You Are Aware of and Follow All Labor Laws

All for-profit companies need to be aware of the six criteria that qualify an internship to be unpaid. It is expected that most for-profit companies will pay their interns a fair wage or they could find themselves in an expensive lawsuit that could cost them millions of dollars.

Provide Opportunities for Students to Participate in Social Gatherings 

Offering opportunities for students to participate in fun activities is a great way to make interns feel as if they are a valuable part of the team. Having time to meet with employees and other interns can greatly enhance the work that they do and motivate them to do a good job. Many employers schedule outings and social gatherings for their interns as well as having the whole team participate in volunteer work that gives them the chance to work together for some charitable cause.

Show Appreciation for the Work that Your Interns Do

Nothing builds self-esteem better than to feel appreciated for who you are and what you do. Interns that know their employers value them as individuals and are also fully invested in helping to make their internship successful, will have a better experience and will do better on the job.

Provide Lots of Opportunities for Students to Ask Questions

As trainees working in a learning environment, it’s important for supervisors to encourage their interns to ask questions. Nothing is more frustrating than being on a job and feeling that there is nowhere to go to get your questions answered. Developing and maintaining a good working relationship starts by developing mutual trust from the very start of an internship which will occur if the intern feels comfortable going to their supervisor for answers.