The information in Internships 101 for Employers will help you create a new internship program, modernize an existing internship program, and learn best practices for internship programs working with college students and recent graduates. Learn more about us.
When you need help managing your workload, hiring an intern can be a low-risk and affordable way to get extra help with the fundamental tasks in your organization. But creating a program to hire, train, and manage interns can be time-consuming and confusing. What’s the point of hiring an intern if it takes you more work setting up an internship program than they will be able to give you?
Stop stressing and bookmark this page because it’s everything you need to know about how to set up an internship program. This page will give you best practices on planning an internship, hiring the best internship candidates, bringing college students and recent graduates up to speed, managing interns and giving them feedback, plus everything else you need to start getting work done and building a talent pipeline from successful interns.
How to start an internship program
Preparing for an internship program
Do I need an intern?
The three most popular reasons to hire an intern or start an internship program are:
- you have more work than your staff can handle but don’t necessarily need full-time help;
- you want to develop future entry-level employees; or
- you want to develop the leadership and management of current employees.
Often all three reasons are essential for starting an internship program at your company. To help determine whether you need an intern and develop a business case for starting an internship program, download our fill-in-the-blank Business Case for Hiring Interns Template.
How long is an internship?
A typical summer internship is 3 months long, with 10-20 hours of work each week. However, more companies offer internships throughout the year and even year-long internship engagements. When considering hiring an intern, you need to consider how much work you’ll be able to give. If you have too much work, you should scale up and hire multiple interns. Don’t have enough projects to fill this time? Consider a Micro-Internship. Unlike a traditional internship, Micro-Internships typically range from 5 to 40 hours of work and provide you with on-demand flexibility.
What projects can interns do?
Every college student has a unique background, so before you look to fill an internship position, you need to determine its scope. An internship can range from a complete focus on one extended project to helping out with each area of your business. However, when interns are spread too thin between multiple departments, they might not have the depth to make meaningful contributions in every area. Thus it is best to determine what assignments you will give to provide you and your intern with the best experience before thinking about hiring. For internship projects ideas, check out our list of 18 Projects You Shouldn’t Do (but an intern can)!
How do you pay interns?
One decision you need to make about your company internship program is whether or not it will be paid. We firmly believe all internships should be paid, and the US Department of Labor firm agrees. If you are a for-profit company and you do not pay your intern, you must adhere to the guidelines listed by the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division fact sheet #71.
To determine your intern’s wage, you should consider the value you’ll receive from their work, the level of expertise and education you expect from your intern, and the wages of comparable positions in your organization or others in your industry. If you’re having trouble justifying an hourly wage, Micro-Internships allow you to pay per project and eliminate the need for HR forms and legal agreements -- Parker Dewey handles it!
Finding, hiring, and onboarding interns
How do I find an intern?
The first step to finding a great intern is to perfect your internship job description; get a free internship job post template here!
There are many ways to recruit interns to your program. Most universities host career fairs throughout the school year, attracting students looking for full-time, part-time, internships, and freelance projects. Developing relationships with universities’ career centers and counselors can also expose more students to your company. On Parker Dewey, your Micro-Internship opportunities specifically reach current college students from U.S.-based schools and recent graduates looking to launch their careers.
When should I start looking for an intern?
The time of year can impact many aspects of your internship program. If you conduct an internship program during the summer, you should make a hiring decision up to 6 weeks out due to heavy competition and afford the student time to find short-term housing if needed. Many universities offer summer intern housing just for out-of-town students. Covering relocation or temporary housing costs can help attract interns and make your position more accessible for students.
Another alternative to attract a diverse selection of qualified interns while reducing costs is to host remote internships. Like full-time remote employees, you’ll need to ensure your interns have access to a reliable internet connection and set up times to check in virtually or by phone to build the relationship. You can open your project to a diverse pool of candidates practically and conveniently through remote Micro-Internships.
Summer is not the only time for interns! For internships during the academic year, you will need to understand availability around class schedules. If you need someone at the same time every day, you may be better suited to look for a college graduate instead of a current student. Find out why Lynn Carroll says year-round Internship programs are a smart move!
How to interview an intern:
Unlike a full-time position, internships are low-risk, so fewer team members need to be involved in the hiring process. Typically, interns speak to a team member they will be working closely with and meet with the hiring manager. Depending on location and school schedules, internship interviews are more likely to occur online or by phone.
Once you've made your selection, send an internship offer letter to your candidate to confirm your commitment and expectations.
Getting an intern up to speed
How to onboard an intern:
When welcoming your intern or interns, you first need to prepare an environment where they can work. . If your intern works onsite, you need to give them somewhere to sit and whatever tools they will need to work with your team. If they are working remotely, you need to confirm that they have the capability to communicate and work with you over the internet or phone.
Some companies treat interns like any other new hire - on the plus side, if you already have a defined onboarding program, you can save time while ensuring they get the basics of company processes. On the other hand, interns are unlikely to have the same benefits and process/training requirements. Instead, you may consider setting up an internship program framework geared towards training on key systems and processes they will assist in, with a one-on-one meeting with company leaders who can educate them on history, competitive positioning, and vision.
For Micro-Internships, onboarding typically skips over company vision and systems training and instead focuses on the background knowledge needed to complete the assignment.
If you have multiple interns, consider setting up experiences or interactions between them and leaders in the company--such as a breakfast or Ask Me Anything style webinar—it’s an excellent way for them to get an overview of how the company operates and get some face time.
Working with and managing interns
Keeping an intern on track
How do I manage an intern?
The first week of your internship program should be your most hands-on period, but you should make time to check in and ask questions each week. It is best to plan regularly scheduled meetings with interns to provide structure, help them stay on track with projects, and ensure they have enough direction and feedback to complete assignments.
What is an internship plan? Do I need an internship plan?
An internship plan is a written agreement between the intern and the internship supervisor to define expectations for the experience.
You may decide you do not need a formalized Internship Plan, but we recommend having clearly written expectations for both the intern and the employer to reference.
Should an intern report to multiple supervisors?
Depending on the size of your organization, exposing your interns to coworkers in other departments can improve your program for you and your intern. Working on projects in various fields can expose interns to different aspects of your business that may interest them. It allows the intern to feel more connected to members of your organization and gain more contacts. It also helps ensure that your intern always has something to do and never has to sit idly waiting for you to direct or instruct them. If they don’t understand, the best thing is to schedule a meeting with the people the work is impacting. Have them explain their day, their needs, and their roadblocks.
Giving feedback to interns
The internship plan that you create with your intern provides you with a set of topics to evaluate your intern’s performance and for your intern to assess their experience. During your check-in meetings, you can consult this plan to discuss what your intern feels they’ve learned and how much progress they’ve made toward achieving their goals.
Additionally, one of the best practices for an internship program is to evaluate interns on a project basis to provide coaching and feedback. Download your very own Internship Project Evaluation Scorecard to help evaluate intern performance in six key areas. Along with these measures, you should discuss with your intern how their projects impact the company, how they feel about the projects they’ve worked on, and if they have any thoughts on how to improve certain processes.
Halfway through the internship, provide a performance review. This evaluation should serve two purposes: to understand how you could better manage the intern and ensure the intern knows what they need to do to end their time successfully. Students earning academic credit are likely to have midpoint and end of term evaluation forms provided by and required by their academic departments.
At the end of the internship, you and your intern should conduct an exit interview. In this interview, you should give your intern a final evaluation of their work at your company and offer them a chance to do the same. You can use this time to gain insight from your intern on your company’s culture and your leadership style. If your internship could lead to a full-time or ongoing position, this is an excellent time to discuss or offer this opportunity. After this interview, make sure to record your thoughts on your intern’s performance to use in future recommendations.
How to optimize your internship program
Is my internship program working?
To evaluate the success of your internship program, you need to reference the reasons you took on an intern in the first place. Using those reasons, you can determine whether or not your internship was a success, and if it wasn’t, these goals should point toward future areas of improvement. At the end of the internship, consider the following questions:
- Did having an intern help me use my time & skills better?
- Did my intern produce work that helped further our organization’s goals?
- Did my staff or I develop our managerial skills?
- Did we hire any of our interns for permanent or recurring positions?
- Did our intern provide any insights that we would not have learned otherwise?
If the answer to most of these questions is “yes,” then your internship program can be considered successful.
If your internship program does not meet some of the outcomes above, we recommend more frequent coaching and feedback to help you and your interns thrive. Make sure to touch on time management, where the interns can best apply their skills, and how they can best assist your company in your feedback. Download your very own Internship Project Evaluation Scorecard to help evaluate intern performance in six key areas. Along with these measures, you should discuss with your intern how their projects impact the company, how they feel about the projects they’ve worked on, and if they have any thoughts on how to improve certain processes.
Building an internship program can be highly valuable for your organization, but doing it right takes time. When you need support now with the benefits of engaging up-and-coming talent, consider a Micro-Internship instead.
For further reading, download our ebook, Beyond Interns, Temps, and Freelancers: How to Engage Students and Improve Entry-Level Hiring Outcomes.
As the largest network of highly motivated college students and recent graduates who are excited to complete short-term, professional assignments, we know internships!
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