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Develop a More Effective Internship Program

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell 

Q: We usually bring on some summer interns, but I don’t think we get the most from our investment. I’m also not sure we provide the interns with valuable job experience. What should we do to make the intern program work better both for us and for the interns?

A:  I appreciate that you’re thinking about summer interns now. Getting started early is one of the keys to a successful intern program. It’s also good that you recognize that the program needs to work both for your organization and for the interns.

Some organizations still see internships as a way to get menial tasks done, and they neglect to provide a growth opportunity for the students. That’s a mistake. Providing a valuable internship experience can be a great way to introduce your organization to young talent who may be eager to return to your team after graduation.

As you plan your program, consider:

What work needs to be done? This will help you determine what skills your interns will need and where you should look to find those skills. Then you can contact local universities and schedule visits to campus or ask for referrals from placement offices.

Plan the summer. What time period do you need the students to work? What kind of orientation will you provide? Who will be responsible for monitoring the program and handling any issues that arise (like an intern asking for a week off to go on a family vacation in the middle of your busy season).

Don’t make the mistake of limiting your interns’ assignments to busywork. They will return to campus and share their negative experiences.

Provide challenging work. Don’t make the mistake of limiting your interns’ assignments to busywork. They will return to campus and share their negative experiences with the career center and their classmates, and you may find it difficult to hire interns from that school for years to come.

Build in fun. Plan some social activities for your interns over the summer. These can be just for the interns, but it makes sense to include others in your organization so they can get to know the interns in less formal situations.

Recruit them. If some interns have skills you can use and seem to fit your organizational culture, be sure they know you’d like them to join you again—either as a future intern or as an employee after they graduate. Then, keep in touch with them after they return to school.

Ask for feedback. Consider doing exit interviews or a focus group with your interns at the end of summer and ask what you could have done differently to make their time with you more valuable. Use that information to improve your program for the next year.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR, The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook and the latest book—The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].

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