What Top Internship Programs Look Like

Aug 12, 2011
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

A new study examines what some of the best internships have in common. A company called J-InterSect looked particularly at General Electric, Goldman Sachs, KPMG (builder of a new mobile app for career advice), Boston Consulting Group, and JP Morgan, honing in on what these firms do that others don’t, or what they do better than others.

At these benchmark companies, 84% of new hires were previously company interns. J-InterSect says that “at for-profit internships that failed to meet global benchmark standards, only 20% of new hires were previously their interns. For nonprofit internships, this metric is only 10%.”

The internship study involved interviews with internship program managers, a confidential 34-question questionnaire, and more, evaluating 75 internship programs.

The report describes internship programs in some parts of Asia as lacking. It suggests better internships would be a big help in China and India to train people in entrepreneurial skills, in Japan in moving people from temp to perm, as well as in Singapore and in the Philippines.

Back to those benchmark firms, J-InterSect says that the top internship programs (see graphic above, click to enlarge) have these four characteristics:

Customized, Valuable Training

  • Customized, high value training (40-50 hours/intern) preparing interns to perform at a high level along-side senior staff.
  • Personal mentoring and consistent feedback so they can learn quickly/grow.

Making Sure the Brand Is Conveyed via the Intern’s Experience

  • Working on high-impact, sometimes rotational assignments, providing early exposure to different parts of the business
  • Networking and senior management involvement helping interns understand how they fit in the company


  • Internal and external metrics collected and implemented to ensure the program and company continuously improve

Program Assessment

  • Metrics used to measure and improve the program
  • High conversion rates of interns to entry-level hires demonstrating intern satisfaction and making the financial investment of the company worthwhile

J-InterSect says that “only 5% of the estimated 240,000 internships offered in the United States each year are in programs that meet global benchmark standards. Public relations tricks and uncritical studies can lead to the false advertisement of ‘prestigious’ internships, which in reality consist of interns exploited as cheap or unpaid labor, performing clerical and menial tasks with low prospects for personal development.

“At nonprofit organizations, overwhelming lack of professionalism and accountability can be attributed to ‘tunnel-vision,’ resistance against a performance-based approach using quantifiable performance indicators. These substandard internships can also give their interns negative branding. Future employers, aware of the prevalence of the ‘Lake Wobegon Effect’ at nonprofit organizations, often assume interns from these organizations will be underperformers.”

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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