Table of Contents

Table of Contents

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Are you thinking about creating an internship program but don’t know where to start? This can be a daunting task, but luckily we’ve done the research and have some helpful tips as you begin this process!

What Is an Internship Program?

An internship program provides learning opportunities in a professional environment that is typically related to a student’s field of interest. These opportunities include career exposure, professional development, real-world experience, networking opportunities and so much more. Simply put, an internship program is an excellent opportunity for both employee and employer.

Benefits of Running an Internship Program

It’s often easy to determine the impact an internship can have on the employee, especially when the employee is a student completing an academic requirement. However, there are numerous compelling benefits an internship program can offer the employer as well. Here are a few ways an internship program can benefit an employer:

  • Employee Pipeline. Internships are the perfect opportunity to create a pipeline for potential new hires. They can act as a trial period for new employees to evaluate their performance and company fit.
  • New Perspective. Similarly to other outside hires, interns can bring a new perspective into an organization to positively contribute to their team and challenge established ideas.
  • Mentorship Opportunity. Providing an employee with an intern to work with gives them an opportunity to be a mentor and develop their leadership abilities.
  • Low-Cost Labor. The cost of labor for an intern is typically lower than the average full-time employee, which means you can get needed help at little to no cost.

How to Start Up Your Internship Program

There isn’t any perfect way to design an internship program because each organization is unique. However, there are steps you can take to help ensure the program is effective. Here are some tips to help you start strong as you create your internship program:

Step 1: Determine Objectives

Ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish with your internship program. Do you simply want to provide an opportunity for students to gain real-world experience? Are you looking to create a pipeline for new employees? Do you need inexpensive labor?

There are several reasons an employer may want to create an internship program. This conversation is imperative to determine the objectives of the program and, as a result, create an amazing experience for employee and employer.

Step 2: Do Your Research

There is a lot to learn from observing another organization’s successful internship program. Although each organization is unique and you shouldn’t follow another program exactly, there is wisdom in researching what works well for others and implementing proven ideas where appropriate. Look into companies with similar objectives to yours.

Step 3: Get Executive Sponsorship

Your internship program should be part of your overall talent acquisition strategy and thus supported by executive leadership. Ensure that business leaders are willing to get involved with the design and ownership of the internship experience. Void your internship becoming yet another HR program. Consider partnering with the business in sourcing candidates to get sponsorship from the beginning.

Step 4: Create a Learning Curriculum

Have a plan in writing that clearly outlines what the intern will do over the course of the program. Clearly outline learning objectives and expectations.

This should include exposure to various departments, executives, and initiatives or events. Internships are geared to provide exposure, so build a plan that allows an intern to gain exposure to multiple parts of the business. Provide work across functions where you can. Where cross-functional work is not feasible, provide a detailed overview of that function that illustrates how it ties into the support of overall company objectives.

Step 5: Plan Your Internship Processes

Use your objectives as a guide when designing your internship program. Determine who will participate as mentors in this program and what support they will need to meet those objectives. Solidify the onboarding and offboarding processes as well as all routine employment information. Determine if there will be regularly scheduled check-ins to evaluate both employee and mentor performance and impact.

Most importantly, when designing your program, create an environment open to feedback, flexibility and constant improvement.

Step 6: Learn Your Target Market

Learn what your target market looks like. Typically, interns are students in college who need the experience for an academic requirement or who have a desire to learn and grow in an internship. Determine where you will be marketing to them, whether that be job posting sites, college campuses, career fairs, etc. and research upcoming events, how to participate, what your presence will look like and what materials you need to prepare.

Step 8: Create a “Capstone” Finish

Provide a way for your interns to reflect on their experience by creating a short presentation for executive leadership illustrating their work and the experience they gained. This gives them an opportunity to practice their presentation skills and reinforce their learning experience.

Step 9: Evaluate and Improve

Make sure there is a designated setting to retrieve feedback about your internship program so you can consistently improve it. Even with preparation, no internship program is going to start out perfect. Develop questions that measure the efficiency of your program. You can ask these questions in an interview setting, via surveys and emails or whatever format is best for your organization. Keep good records of the feedback and regularly evaluate how you can address it. This assessment will assist you in creating the best internship program possible.

Others Tips for Creating an Amazing Program

There are countless tips that can help when creating an internship program. It can be difficult to know which are more helpful than others, but here are a few that will be beneficial as you begin this process:

Tip 1: Learn the Legalities

A common topic when discussing internship programs is pay. Some internship programs pay their interns while others do not. If this is new territory for you, research the legalities surrounding this topic. There are other legal factors to be considered as well, though pay is the most common concern.

Tip 2: Provide Meaningful Work

Internships are just as much an opportunity for the intern as it is for the employer, if not more. An internship should be a worthwhile experience for the intern and include meaningful work. It can be tempting to pass off unattractive work to an intern, but avoiding this whenever possible and creating purposeful work will improve your internship program.

Tip 3: Treat Interns Well

Obviously nobody plans on mistreating interns, but there is a reputation interns have sustained over the years. By treating your interns well you can positively impact their job satisfaction which in turn increases their desire to continue working for you and to promote your organization to people they know.

Tip 4: Focus on Professional Development

One main purpose of an internship is for the employee to gain professional experience in their field of interest. This is often a critical time in their lives where they are learning about careers. Providing opportunities to teach them about professional development such as the importance of networking, discovering their strengths and weaknesses, what stems their motivation, etc. will help ensure your program is successful in this aspect and truly benefits the employee too.

Examples of Successful Internship Programs

Internship programs have existed for years, which means there are companies who have developed effective programs that you can learn from. Again, each company is unique and should tailor their program to fit their culture and company needs. Here are some examples of companies with successful internship programs:

Microsoft

Not surprisingly, Microsoft has a sought after internship program. Alongside the actual work experience, Microsoft cares about the overall well-being of their interns as much as that of their full-time employees. By focusing on employee mental, emotional, physical and financial well-being, interns at Microsoft gain a greater desire to stick with the company who truly cares about them.

Google

Landing an internship at Google has been described as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by many. Although that is partly due to their infamous brand, it is possible for others to emulate their success.

One thing that makes their program so successful is the perks they offer their interns. It likely won’t be feasible for every company to mimic Google’s perks of free food, apparel, transportation and more, but including interns in the perks offered to all employees will show them their value.

Not only does receiving perks as an intern make them feel valued, it also excites them and instills a desire to continue working there.

Amazon

As a well-known company, Amazon also has a well-known, successful internship program. One thing that makes their internship program so successful is the meaningful work they offer their interns. Interns are offered the opportunity to join creative teams and participate in real-life work. This creates excitement in their interns and a look into what a full-time position at Amazon can be.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Internship Programs

The topic of pay correlates directly with your objectives. Are you looking for top talent to add to your pipeline or do you simply need inexpensive labor to help with a summer project? Depending on your organization, you may not have the financial means to pay interns. However, there are many benefits of paying interns and that should be highly considered. When determining the amount of pay an intern will receive, do your market research. Evaluate your company as well as others in the market to ensure you’re being competitive, if that aligns with your objectives. This market research will be similar to how you research pay for full-time positions. Competitive pay is necessary to obtain top talent, even among interns.

Extending an intern a full-time offer should be based on company needs as well as employee performance. Again, this relates to your objectives. If you only need the additional help during peak season, make sure candidates are aware of this when applying for the internship. If your objective is to find a new team member and the employee performed well during their internship, extending a full-time offer would be appropriate and show that your company invests in their internship program.

Natalie graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Human Resources Management in 2020. Following her schooling, she completed an additional HR internship and is currently an Associate HR Operations Specialist. She loves working in HR and fully intends to further her education alongside her career.

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