The Basics

12 Steps to Setting Up an Intern Program

Implementing an internship program can seem daunting: What's your first step? What's your next step? And how do you know if your company can handle an internship program?

In reality, setting up an internship program is similar to starting any new program or project: It's crucial you have a plan. Once you do, however, it's as easy as checking items off a list until that plan is put into action. Knowing how to start an internship program is no different.

Internship programs offer tremendous benefits to businesses in terms of increasing productivity and recruiting well-suited staff members—especially in small- to medium-sized organizations.

To help you reap these benefits, Internships.com has created a step-by-step, systematic plan to smoothly guide you from wishing you had an internship program to watching your company enjoy the advantages of this cost-effective source of highly motivated manpower.

Research & Discover.

  1. Learn about the landscape. Your first step is to gain a general understanding of the internship arena: What exactly is an internship? Who is Generation Y, and what should you know about hiring them? What are interns looking for in a host organization? Using internships.com as your headquarters, read and research as much as possible about the internship industry.

  2. Evaluate your organization. Once you get a feel for what an internship program entails, your next step is to conduct an internal assessment of your company's needs and resources.

    Some aspects to consider are whether you will pay interns, or how you can otherwise compensate intern efforts; whether your company can support multiple interns; the availability of meaningful work for interns; the type of projects that can be assigned; your ideal duration and time of year to host interns; and how your physical space and equipment will accommodate additional individuals.

  3. Learn about legality. Before you design your program, it's wise to get a grasp on the legal ramifications of hosting interns in your state: minimum wage requirements, workers' compensation issues, safety and harassment policies, termination guidelines, and how other traditional employee benefits and business responsibilities do or don't apply to interns.

    As a host organization, the best way to cover your bases legally is to consult with your company's legal counsel or contact an employment law professional...before you begin the hiring process.

  4. Understand college credit. It's a common misconception that internships are always in exchange for college or university credit. Yes, an internship is a learning experience. But whether or not educational credit is obtained is strictly between the student and his or her school.

Plan & Design.

  1. Gain business-wide backing. For an internship to succeed, it's necessary to get the entire business on board. From the CEO to senior and junior management, without big-picture buy-in, interns won't feel welcome, and it will be a constant struggle to allocate resources.

    The best way to get the green light? Prepare a presentation explaining how an internship program can help your organization reach its objectives.

  2. Design the program.The key component in setting up an internship is to create the structure itself. A comprehensive internship structure should include information on learning objectives, daily responsibilities, short- and long-term projects, supervisor assignments, evaluation procedures, policies and expectations, and orientation and off-boarding processes, to name the basics.

  3. Put together a compensation plan. Develop your intern salary or compensation structure. Research current trends and intern expectations; then designate funds, create a budget, and gain the necessary financial approval.

  4. Delegate duties. Having staff members take ownership of key roles and responsibilities ensures implementation will move forward and that the internship program will run smoothly once in place. But it doesn't end there. Make sure intern supervisors have the time and resources to effectively manage the participants and the program itself.

  5. Select a start date for interns. Leaving your launch date open-ended almost guarantees procrastination. Instead, setting a date about 7 to 10 weeks out will facilitate proper planning.

Take Action.

  1. Post the position. Posting openings on internships.com gives you exposure to the top student talent. Filling out the position profile is simple and allows you to explain about the position, the industry, and the benefits of working for your business.

  2. Evaluate candidates. Start by identifying the specific skills, traits, and training you're looking for. Next, devise a system for evaluating resumes and submissions to decide which prospective interns you will interview.

  3. Interview, select, and hire interns. Conduct interviews. Then, perform background checks and contact the references of your top contenders. When making final decisions, be sure the direct supervisor has a say in selecting a candidate. Finally, refer to your program structure (designed in step six) to begin your on-boarding and orientation processes.

Employer takeaway: Don't let the unknown nature of starting an internship program be a deterrent. Simply follow the 12 steps to starting an internship above, and your business will be benefitting from the extra sets of hands—and fresh perspectives—in no time.