Your Internship Program: A Look Back Before Looking Ahead

Dec 16, 2009

crl_masthead(this is part of a larger feature on internships in the next Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership)

For the first time in years, there are new things to be said about the quality and quantity of internship programs. Interns should run social media campaigns. Employers should advertise for interns on Twitter. An entire unit of interns should be brought on to achieve A, B, and C.

Internship programs are on the rise. Take a look back before looking forward. Yes, many improvements can be made to any internship program. But, how is your company’s internship program to begin with? How does it run? Do the students enjoy it? What do they get out of it? Are employees properly using interns?

I question the current internship programs at companies across the United States. I question if all employees, from CEO to entry-level assistant, are really aware of their internship programs and how they run. Are clear goals defined within the company to outline the purpose of hosting interns? How are these students managed and used on a day-to-day basis?

With that in mind, here are some suggested quick fixes to your internship program:

  1. Every employee at the company must be kept in the loop. The CEO of the company should be aware of the internship program and what role the young minds play within the company. Entry-level employees, secretaries, and all administrators must be aware of who these interns are and what they should be doing. This will better communication among employees and also create a secure environment for the interns to operate under.
  2. Assign the role. A specific employee needs to be in charge of the internship program and provided with the additional title of “internship coordinator.” Having one person in charge of this company will avoid departments finding interns on their own and will create a central source for internship communication.
  3. Have yearly intern meetings. Meetings should be held at least once per year to define appropriate intern tasks. An employer is wasting their time and energy creating an internship program if the interns are going to sit around and do nothing. Their time should be used wisely to build a beneficial experience for the student and for the employer.
  4. Start an internal conversation. Ask employees in all departments what they need and how they could put interns to work. Interns are legally supposed to be “assisting” and/or performing “vocational-like tasks.” Research, organization, and database management are very popular intern tasks. Teaching interns to perform this kind of functionality will increase the efficiency of most departments while educating students on the behind-the-scenes components of any business deal or transaction.
  5. Set limits and boundaries for interns. Remember, when you are dealing with an intern, you are more-than-likely dealing with a parent. Review the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act before bringing interns into the workplace. This agreement is supposed to protect interns from illegal situations. Keep intern tasks appropriate and business-related. The intern is most likely working for free, and they are taking the internship to learn about the specific industry. The company must provide an education environment and days filled with tasks that will help the interns learn about their future. Interns who run personal errands all day go home upset and frustrated. This does nothing for the company or the student. Set boundaries with all of your employees and list tasks that are not appropriate for interns.
  6. Be a Mentor. There are several ways for employers to go above and beyond the traditional internship experience. A mentorship program is a great extension of the internship program and provides a beneficial experience for both interns and employees. Each semester, assign an intern to an executive at the company. They should meet once at the beginning of the internship and briefly in the middle of the internship, and the company can host a big mentor/mentee luncheon to celebrate the end of their internship. These are programs that don’t take too much additional time or dollars to create.
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