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5 Tips for a Successful Internship Program

Oct 28th, 2015

Interns can either be a wonderful addition to your workforce or a consistent hindrance to workflow, progress, and your staff questions your sanity for hiring an intern in the first place. Here are 5 tips to ensure that your interns make your business better and you help them become successful in their career journey.

  • View interns from the proper perspective.
    • We would like to believe that interns provide professional skills that will better our businesses with minimal pay. The initial thought may be, “If we need marketing help, but don’t have the money to hire a real marketing person, let’s just hire a marketing intern. We’ll get nearly the same output for a fraction of the money.”
    • In reality, an intern usually becomes a valuable asset right about the time their internship is finishing. Until that time, we need to look at them as an understudy of the department of which they are a part, or the company as a whole. Hiring a marketing intern when there is no marketing department isn’t going to yield the results you’re looking for, and it won’t provide an internship experience for the student that will set them up for success.
    • If you (and your staff) primarily focus on teaching the intern the ins and outs of your business, in turn, you will have an intern that adds value to your company.
  • Remember interns are typically in their early to mid-20s.
    • They might show up to the office their first day in a business suit and have 3 years of college classes under their belt. That doesn’t mean that didn’t just buy their first suit the night before and this is the first time they’ve worked somewhere that didn’t require a hair net and apron. Remember what you were like in your early 20s and understand that they are still developing into adults. Intentionally work to get to know them and genuinely care about them as individuals.
    • You can’t assume anything with interns. An exhaustive Intern Handbook is your best ally. Ask the intern to read and sign the handbook on their first day. Make your expectations clear. When there are instances where they don’t meet expectation (and there will be), correct them immediately and move forward. Document as necessary.
    • Utilize checklists to help interns stay on task and know what to do when they have run out of immediate work.
  • Think intentionally about making them your side-kick.
    • Again, interns typically have a limited work history. They are chomping at the bit to learn to be a professional in their chosen career field. Capitalize on that enthusiasm by including them in as many meetings, sales calls, and projects as possible.
    • If you’re including the intern in a meeting, if you deem necessary, talk to the intern ahead of time and make it clear that their role in the meeting is to observe. If they have comments or questions, they should write them down. Then take time to debrief with the intern following the meeting to listen to their input and answer their questions. This will build trust between you and the intern and help you evaluate their progress.
  • Provide additional learning opportunities.
    • Create a checklist of self-led learning opportunities for the intern to complete, should they ever have time when their immediate work is finished.
    • Provide a list of links to company training modules, YouTube videos, and other business and industry-specific manuals for the intern to review and write bullet points or a short paragraph summarizing what they learned.
    • Build a small library of books that you and/or your senior staff have found are “must-reads”. Ask the intern to choose a book, read it, and write some bullet points or a short paragraph on what spoke to them in the book.
  • Continually ask for feedback.
    • Rather than waiting until the exit interview to try to generate feedback, ask the intern on a regular basis how they feel about their internship.
    • Do they need more work to do? Do they feel overwhelmed? Are they confident that they know what they are supposed to do? Do they feel like they are a part of the team? What other parts of the business do they wish they could observe?
    • Continually improving your internship program is on-going. You will get more effective feedback if you have developed a relationship with the intern and you ask for their input on a regular basis.