Developing Internship Programs

An expert offers a detailed structure for establishing effective internship programs.

This article accompanies Taking Them Seriously.

Thursday, July 1, 2010
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As the recession begins to subside and boomers retire as predicted, the need for fresh talent educated in today's college classrooms will be paramount. An effectively managed internship program is the single best college-recruiting tool.

There is no better interview tool for full-time employees, and the cost savings realized through an internship program are simply incredible.

Intern Bridge developed the Total Internship Management model after researching internship program best practices based on the expectations and experiences of more than 100,000 university students in the United States, who participated in a variety of degree programs.

The research was the foundation for our manual, Total Internship Management: The Employer's Guide To Building The Ultimate Internship Program, which can be found below:

PHASE 1: Strategy (Key question: Does my organization have what it takes to create an internship program that will create true benefit for us, the student and our college partners?)

Step 1: Gain an understanding of the general internship environment.

It is important to learn about the unique aspects of Gen Y, and how bringing together a cohort of students may affect full-time staff. This is also a great opportunity to evaluate the many reasons your organization should host intern, including the opportunity to identify future hires, create a tremendous pipeline of top talent and reduce labor costs.

Step 2: Conduct an organizational audit.

It is critical to take a moment to evaluate the availability of specific resources available for the internship program. Please visit the whitepapers section to download our complimentary organizational audit.

Step 3: Obtain executive-level support.

You are critical to the success of an internship program. You control funding and more importantly, you control the organizational culture and how the internship program is perceived by full-time employees. Become involved and engaged!

PHASE 2: Planning (Key question: What will my organization do to actually build a meaningful internship program?)

Step 4: Decide on the general structure of the program.

Many employers automatically aim for the summer semester when planning internships. This time of year can be advantageous, but it can also be a drawback as it often requires more attention to detail and a greater commitment from supervisors.

Step 5: Create an intern work plan.

There are two important takeaways when planning for the arrival of interns:

* Make sure they are assigned both short-term and long-term deliverables. Interns want to be kept busy; they want the opportunity to take academic theory and apply it to real-world work examples. You hold the key to making that happen.

* Limit the amount of menial work that interns endure. Of course, full-time employees, even executives, have menial work from time to time. The recommendation is to ensure that students are performing meaningful and impactful work a minimum of 80 percent of the time.

Step 6: Choose the most appropriate supervisor.

The interactions between interns and supervisors can sometimes singlehandedly determine the success of an internship program. Most organizations do not take the time to evaluate potential supervisors for their ability to effectively manage interns.

A fantastic supervisor of experienced line employees may not necessarily be a great supervisor of inexperienced college students. Intern supervisors should posses skill sets similar to that of an educator or instructor.

Step 7: Build a robust compensation and benefits plan.

This step has certainly garnered quite a bit of attention this year as the U.S. Department of Labor has increased their scrutiny on the legality of unpaid internships.

Intern Bridge has been at the forefront of this ongoing debate. The best practice is that all internships should be paid, although the reality is that only about half of all internship in the nation are.

However, it is critical to keep in mind that, if the main reason you are hosting interns is to build a talent pipeline (which it certainly should be), then the absolute only way to achieve that goal in its entirety is to pay interns. Otherwise, you instantly disqualify over half of the applicant pool simply because they cannot afford to work for free.

PHASE 3: Implementation (Key question: How will my organization engage the students?)

Step 8: Market the opportunity targeted colleges.

Building relationships with local colleges is an important part of the internship process since they are the gatekeepers to the students you (and your competition) are trying to recruit. Figuring out which colleges are best to work with and offer the most resources to employers is no easy task.

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Step 9: Interview and select the best candidates.

Remember, this is a two-way process. Students are interviewing your organization just as much as you are interviewing them. You are likely one of at least five host sites they are seeking. If you decide you want to hire a particular student, it is your duty to win them over.

Step 10: Offer a world-class orientation.

By far, this is the largest gap in internship programs. Do not expect students to show up on their first day ready to begin working immediately. Especially if this is their first professional experience, they will need some time to fully acclimate to your organization.

PHASE 4: Feedback (Key question: How will my organization know if we succeeded?)

Step 11: Deliver frequent and meaningful feedback.

Students are participating in the internship to learn. Providing frequent feedback ensures that students are having a significant experience, and that they are able to consistently improve their workplace skills.

Step 12: Provide an efficient off-boarding process.

Don't forget to have interns evaluate you as the employer. This final evaluation is the only true method of being able to tell if your program is a success. This is also one last opportunity for you to provide a final farewell to students, keeping your organization fresh in their minds for when they receive an offer letter.

Richard Bottner is the founder and president of Intern Bridge, the nation's leading college recruiting consulting and research firm. Please contact them for more information about the firm or their best-practices publications and professional-development program.

See also:

Taking Them Seriously

Starting with a Circle of Contacts

Proposed Reforms for Internships

Pay Provisions for Interns

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