15 Tips for Running a Successful Internship Program

Manager meets with her intern in the office.

Zackary Drucker, The Gender Spectrum Collection

Marissa Taffer
Marissa Taffer363
How can I help you grow?

Why should you have an intern program? 

Having an intern program is a great way to develop your talent pipeline. When you need entry-level talent, you'll have candidates who are ready to work for you and who already understand your business. Additionally, an internship program is a great way to give back and provide learning opportunities and mentorship for young professionals. 

What is the role of an intern? 

An intern is a trainee who is working to learn a trade or a skill. An internship is a step below an entry-level role for most careers. Most interns work part-time during the school year, with the opportunity to hire a full-time intern over the summer and during school breaks. 

Interns help with projects to gain experience and explore career opportunities. Internships can be paid, unpaid (for school credit), or come with a scholarship or stipend. Interns generally do some of the lower-level tasks in a company in exchange for the opportunity to learn the business and meet more senior employees to have a better chance of getting a job in their field at the completion of their education. 

15 tips for training your interns and running a successful internship program.

These 15 tips will help you get started in hiring, training and growing your business through the creation of a successful internship program. 

1. Understand the labor laws in your state. 

Some states have become stricter after class action lawsuits about the legality of unpaid internships. Before you hire your first interns you should make sure you understand the laws governing internships in your state. (Even if you will be paying your interns this is important.)

2. Partner with local universities.

They will be able to help you find qualified interns and provide academic credit to interns who go through your program. Search for the career development center or campus internship coordinators at your local colleges and universities.

3. Decide who in your organization is responsible for overseeing the interns. 

While HR can be a big help and oversee interns who are interested in business or human resources, interns in other functional areas will need managers or mentors. Supervising an intern is a hefty time commitment, so make sure whoever you choose is interested in overseeing an intern and has the time required to do so in a way that is engaging to the intern. 

There may also be assignments from the school your intern has to complete for their manager’s review and comment as well as evaluations and progress reporting the manager has to provide to the intern and ultimately the university in order for your intern to receive academic credit. It is important that you consider all of the necessary additional work before asking your employees to supervise an intern. 

4. Identify what level of intern is appropriate for your organization and the tasks you have for them. 

Will a college sophomore work or do you need an upperclassman/graduate student? Depending on your office environment and/or the nature of the work will inform the level of student you can accommodate. 

5. Create a specific job description for each intern you’re looking to hire.

 Give an accurate idea of the type of tasks they can expect to do and what they will learn from the internship. If a lot of the work is administrative (making copies, setting up for meetings and ordering catering and coffees) say so. Conversely, if a lot of the work is in customer support or involves speaking on the phone for most of the day or staffing events be sure that your potential interns understand this and are interested in this type of work. 

6. Communicate expectations in advance.

New interns may have never worked in an office before. Be sure to be proactive about when you expect them to arrive at the office, how you expect them to dress and act in the office (Limit cell phone and social media usage, no tank tops, ripped jeans or flip flops etc.), and what tasks they can expect to handle. 

7. Make interns feel welcome.

Let all employees know about your new interns. Share their headshot and bios in company communication and encourage all employees to interact with the interns. If you have interns from multiple schools or programs starting, arrange for them to get to know each other and give them opportunities to collaborate. If all of the interns in your office or company are starting around the same time consider organizing a lunch or some type of mixer with icebreakers so they can all meet each other. 

8. Provide interns with a tour of the office or facility.

There is nothing worse than not knowing where the bathroom is, how to find needed supplies, or which shop in the neighborhood has the best cup of coffee. Be sure to provide an overview of the 

9. Give a variety of assignments. 

As interns are still learning they may not have been exposed to other areas. For example, a communications major might be interested in pursuing a career in public relations until an opportunity to work with the social media team inspires them to try social media and content development. 

10. Give feedback frequently. 

This very well may be your intern’s first professional experience; they may not be used to working in an office and the expected behaviors that go with it. Provide praise and recognition when they do great work but be sure to have conversations about behavior that is not acceptable in the workplace. For example, texting during a meeting or watching videos on YouTube in the office. 

11. Challenge your interns.

In addition to providing a variety of assignments be sure that you provide a challenge or stretch project. Ensure you’re setting your interns up for success but by allowing them to stretch and work hard you’re helping them build confidence and hopefully they’re showing you why they might be a great fit as a full time hire in the future.

12. Ask your interns for feedback.

Sometimes we don’t see the things that are right in front of us. As your interns are coming in with fresh eyes or could be part of your company’s target demographic you should leverage that and ask them for their ideas and input. They may surprise you with what they observe. Be sure to give them lots of praise for sharing ideas and feedback, it takes a lot of courage to speak up in front of your supervisor or company leaders! 

13. Invite interns to attend networking and industry events.

 Does your company have employee resource groups or attend networking events for your industry or profession? Invite your interns to attend these meetings and events as well. It is a great opportunity for them to meet others in the company or industry, learn and grow their networks. 

14. Celebrate the end of the internship.

In addition to a meeting to review the intern’s performance you could organize a lunch or coffee break and send the intern off well. You could provide a small gift or some form of recognition. Even a thank you card signed by everyone in the office would be a nice touch. Remember that interns could come back to work for the company sometime in the future. 

15. Stay in touch!

Connect with your interns on LinkedIn and follow up with them to see how they’re doing and what they’re working on. If you really liked an intern, meet them for lunch once in a while to catch up and learn about what they’re studying or learning in another intern role. It’s important to keep up with former interns as you never know when your paths might cross again!

Don’t miss out on articles like these. Sign up!