How To Create a Successful Internship Program

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Winter is in full force, and so is career fair planning for colleges and universities. Organizations are attending fairs, looking to land an upcoming grad, but more likely, summer interns or co-op students. Internships and co-ops are a great way to not only supplement a company’s busy season, but they also offer an opportunity to trial a potential full-time hire before the offer is made.

Internships also offer students a chance to gain valuable on-the-job experience prior to graduation. With the economy still in recovery, these opportunities may give students a competitive advantage for the time after they have their degree in hand.

Determining how many interns, what to pay them, and what you will have them do can be daunting to companies that have never hired one before. If you feel hiring interns is a trend you would like to start and continue with at your organization, begin by establishing a detailed internship program. Vanessa Van Petten, founder of Radical Parenting, offers tips that helped her grow from one intern to over 100 in less than 5 years:

To attract great interns, help them understand it is a win-win.

“One of the reasons we come up high on Google for ‘teen internship’ is because we have a page that attracts a lot of promising interns. Whether you want one intern or many, you want to decide how it will benefit both you and your potential interns and use this to attract applicants. We explain why our internship is a win-win for the applicant, for us and for our readers. This will help you appeal to the right kind of applicant and give a focus to your program.”

Get specific on what they will do for you.

“Make a list of every activity and project your company currently engages in that needs more support. Updating Twitter, cold emailing potential customers or filing applications is an example. Now, go through that list and cross out items that would need more than an hour of training. You should be left with at least five or six items. These are the activities that interns can immediately help with. This will also help you describe the internship on your intern page. Especially if it will be an unpaid position, you want to give applicants an idea of what the work is and what skills they need. This will also help weed out people who will not work for you as a potential employee.”

Have lenient but poignant qualifications.

“Since internships are usually unpaid, it is important that you are open to all kinds of people to get a variety of applicants. But, if there are skills you need, ask for them! You do not want to spend more time and energy training an intern on something when you could have found someone who already had the skills, like being able to use Powerpoint, website editing or social media fluency.”

Use your first interns to create an intern program.

“One of the challenges that employers face is the daunting task of training new interns–especially if you have new ones every semester or summer. Early on, we created a standardized training program that was actually created by our first round of interns. It is very easy to do this. Once you hire your first intern, train them and have one of their early tasks be to create a training for future interns. For example, one task we give our interns is to comment on other blogs about articles we are writing. Before they can do this, we need to train them on the proper commenting etiquette. We trained our first intern, then we had that intern write a three page guideline on commenting and film a two minute video explaining the process. Now, when we have new interns, they simply read the guide and watch the video. If they still have questions, they ask us and then we go back and add the missing info to the three page guide. We did this with all of the activities we needed help with, so we did not have to train interns over and over again.”

Create an intern learning network.

“We have put all of the intern-written guides into a 60 page e-manual and put them all on a private Ning. This is our intern learning network. Interns log on, download the intro workbook and watch the videos that previous interns have recorded. Having a network with all of the information about our company, activities, tasks and goals in one place and where interns can talk to each other has greatly cut down on our workload and builds great camaraderie amongst the interns. We have now expanded our intern learning network so that we can deliver intern tasks every week automatically.”

“With these steps you can create an amazing program for interns that will greatly help your business. Their efforts will not only give your company an added edge, but whatever work you put into creating the program will be doubly repaid with how much they can give back to your business.”

While hiring interns may seem like more effort than potential payout, once the groundwork is laid, a great intern hire will help you see the light. Hiring interns may even help keep costs down over hiring an experienced professional to do the same tasks (depending on the amount of training necessary). If an unpaid internship is part of your plan, keep an eye out for next week’s article “Summer Interns: Liability” for more valuable insight before you make that hire.


  1. Carol Perkins on January 22, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    At Bright Horizons, we are excited about internships; and they are a long standing piece of strong contributions to our talented and dedicated teams of professionals!
    Meeting with individuals; connecting with their visions and learning from them about the impressions we a valuable as the experiences and impressions they gain from us! Real life experiences teach us all!

  2. Kinga on November 6, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    Great piece on the intern onboarding process! It’s essential to make interns feel like they are a part of the company. The process of offboarding an intern is just as important as the onboarding process. Follow these simple steps: 1. Decide if a position is open 2. Show gratitude for the intern’s time and work 3. Write the referral letter immediately before you forget any important details 4. Perform an exit interview. Find our full article at UrbanBound

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