6 Tips To Develop A Successful Internship Program
Internships can be a great way to introduce new talent to your business, while also providing prospective interns with valuable experience in the industry they plan to work in.
When you offer internships at your company, you’re opening up spaces for short-term hires that can nonetheless have a large impact on the business as a whole. Interns can do anything full-time hires can provided they’re taught well and given proper guidance.
Before we get into exactly how to set up your program to help you offer the most successful internships, let’s take a look at what makes these kinds of programs so useful.
THE BENEFITS OF OFFERING INTERNSHIPS
Each year, around 1.1-2.3 million Americans are employed as interns. Approximately 43% of these interns work without pay, while the remainder typically earn significantly less than a full-time employee at the same company.
This means there’s a large, diverse talent pool to draw from when you’re searching for an intern to fill a position. After all, if over a million individuals successfully secure an internship, many more must have applied without obtaining the position.
Interns are a cost-effective way to handle simple projects, especially short-term projects that can be completed in a few months. Due to their quick turnaround, they also provide a great opportunity to consistently bring fresh perspectives to your company.
In other words, interns use up relatively few resources while enriching your company and helping with the completion of projects. What’s not to love?
SETTING UP AN EXCELLENT INTERNSHIP PROGRAM
Once you’ve decided you’ll be taking on interns in the future, there’s a great deal of preparatory work to do. You’ve got to find projects and mentors, as well as create plans. It can seem overwhelming at first.
That’s why the six most important tips for how to develop a successful internship program have been compiled below.
TIP 1: PLAN CAREFULLY
There are a few things you absolutely must plan for when it comes to hosting internship programs in the US.
First, consider the age of the interns you’ll be taking on. Your interns are mostly going to be university students or the occasional recent high school graduate. This means you’ve got to be prepared to plan around their schedules.
Summer internships are a way to avoid this constraint, although they come with their own sets of time restrictions. The most evident, of course, is their duration. When university starts back up (typically around September), you’ve got to have off-boarded your summer interns.
Another factor to keep in mind when you’re opting for summer internships is the fact that a portion of your prospective candidates will be non-American nationals. That means they’ll need your company to sponsor their J-1 visa if they aren’t already in the US studying on an F-1. Without one of these two visas, they can’t work for your company.
Another aspect of planning you’ll have to take care of in advance is making sure to allocate the proper resources for each intern. Interns can only be kept on for set amounts of time, often around the length of a semester at university.
This means you’ve got to organize things so they don’t spend their precious time with your company waiting for resources to become available. Can they only complete work assignments using a company computer? Ensure you’ve got one at the ready on day one for each intern so they can get to work learning (and providing you with ROI) right away.
A general rule to keep in mind is that you should be ready for anything. In today’s work environment, you can never guarantee that your interns won’t need to work remotely at a moment’s notice.
If you’re sending your interns home with the necessary equipment for them to still work, you’ll want to make sure you’ve arranged for appropriate remote teleconferencing services to be available to them. This is just one example of how you should plan for the eventuality of having your interns work remotely.
TIP 2: PERFECT THE WORKLOAD
Nobody likes sitting around doing nothing when they’re meant to be getting internship experience. Likewise, few people enjoy being overworked to the point of a mental breakdown.
The key is to find the right balance. That way, you’ll be able to craft an internship experience that leaves your interns feeling as though they’re part of the professional workforce already, without putting pressure on them to perform far above their pay grade.
They should be able to structure their day like any full-time or part-time employee, with projects, deadlines, and other day-to-day work to keep them busy.
This means their schedules shouldn’t be filled up with meaningless tasks. Getting coffee for everyone in the office once in a while might be part of the workplace standard for all employees, but when this task falls to interns all the time, it can leave them feeling like they’ve wasted their opportunity.
One useful tip to keep in mind is that interns have limited experience in your field compared to the rest of the team. This makes it far more likely that they’ll be excited about projects that might register as mundane or repetitive to your full-time employees.
This is something you can take advantage of! Let your interns take care of these kinds of projects, and you’ll ensure the projects are approached with enthusiasm while the interns have the chance to gain meaningful experience. As a bonus, your full-timers will be happy they don’t have to do less thrilling work, which creates a more positive workplace environment.
TIP 3: PROVIDE COMPENSATION
As the first graphic in this article shows, unpaid internships are unfortunately all too common in the US. This is true even though, as per CNN, unpaid interns are far less likely to find employment. When they do, they’re generally paid less as well:
By paying interns, you’re teaching them their work has value and that you recognize this. Your interns will be more likely to feel as though they’re appreciated, which will improve their feelings toward your company and make them more inclined to seek a permanent position there.
Financial compensation for work encourages interns to adopt a positive attitude when they come into work each day. It also gives interns the chance to earn money doing something they enjoy within the industry they’re planning to work in. This further boosts their drive to work hard.
On the corporate end of things, offering paid internships attracts a greater number of applicants. This lets you choose your candidates from a larger talent pool. You’ll be far more likely to find a perfect fit and improve your company’s internal environment and external output as a direct result.
When you’ve got a lot of applicants, you can also raise the standards you judge them against. Would it save your company a lot of time and effort if prospective interns already know the basics of the style of cloud management the company uses, for example? This is the sort of additional requirement you can set if you offer financial compensation.
TIP 4: DEFINE THE ROLE AS CLEARLY AS POSSIBLE
A crucial part of running successful internship programs is to make sure candidates know exactly what they’re signing up for.
The more accurate your description of the responsibilities that come with the internship, the more likely you’ll be to attract candidates that will do an excellent job. This is because candidates will have a clear idea right from the start of exactly what’s expected of them, as well as what they should avoid doing.
In other words, the gap in the diagram below will become significantly smaller.
Since interns will know ahead of time what they should be ready for, they can research in advance to understand what should and should not be done. This improves their overall performance, which nets your company better results at the same time.
A clearly defined role also attracts more specifically qualified candidates. For example, if you state in your description of the role that interns will have to be familiar with the idea of public cloud services, you’ll be much more likely to attract applicants who already understand at least the basics, and at best, the finer details of these kinds of services.
Your company can save on resources, and your interns can build on the knowledge they already have. It’s a win-win for all parties.
TIP 5: CHOOSE MENTORS CAREFULLY
Your interns need guidance. One of the factors that makes an internship appealing is the chance to receive professional guidance and teaching in the form of being mentored. That’s why it’s crucial to choose who to cast as a mentor with care and consideration.
Each mentor should be able to provide guidance and answer any questions their mentee(s) might have. Asking questions enriches the internship experience for interns, and it gives mentors the chance to provide a detailed glimpse into corporate life.
Excellent mentoring comes with a wide array of benefits:
This long list of benefits goes a long way toward showing that great mentors can mean the difference between a good internship experience and a bad one from the intern’s perspective.
Suitable mentors should be able to provide support and challenge the interns to do the best they can. This ensures that interns are both happy and productive, two factors that hugely impact their overall performance.
It’s important to consider what the mentors themselves get out of the arrangement. Perhaps your company has employees who are keen to move into management or coaching positions, both of which can benefit immensely from the employee having prior experience with mentoring.
That’s why assigning suitable mentors to your interns benefits them while also generating extra ROI for your company.
TIP 6: CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH
If there’s one thing any intern should be trying to accomplish throughout their internship, it’s to ensure they grow. Whether that growth happens in the form of making new connections, learning about industry-standard systems and practices, gaining experience, or a combination of the three, it’s critically important for your company to provide interns with the chance to flourish.
It’s helpful to ensure that this growth can be quantified. One way to do this is to have regular performance reviews where interns discuss their progress with their mentor(s). If this is the route you go down, you’ve got to be careful about making sure it suits your interns, as many employees feel negatively about the idea of performance reviews.
As the graphic shows, the majority of employees surveyed preferred knowing they’re being valued by their managers or employers over having check-ins or reviews. The important thing is to make sure your interns aren’t intimidated.
An intern might, for example, be comfortable with participating in an international conference call as part of their work experience. They might not be as quick to say they’re comfortable having their performance discussed on such a call.
Creating a comfortable environment and having the interns discuss their performance only with trusted mentors helps immensely in this regard.
Promoting growth in your interns is beneficial to both them and your company. The more they grow, the better their performance will be. Additionally, interns who go through a lot of growth are more employable, which is especially helpful if they’re thinking of seeking a permanent position at your company.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
It’s easy to think of interns simply as a handy resource that saves your company money, but they’re so much more than that. Internships give bright young minds the chance to learn from and enhance your company in a short period. The better you prepare for them, the more value they’ll bring to your company, increasing your ROI and their experience at the same time.
Severine Hierso is EMEA Senior Product Marketing Manager for RingCentral Office, the leader in cloud-based integrated technology, and is passionate about creating value, differentiation, and messaging, ensuring a better experience for customers and partners.
She has gained extensive international Product Marketing, Market Research, Sales Enablement, and Business development experience across SaaS, Telecommunications, Video Conferencing, and Technology sectors within companies such as Sony, Cisco, Cogeco Peer 1, and Dimension Data/NTT.
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