Internship Program Best Practices

Published: 1/25/2019

If you’re going to invest time and resources into an internship program, you obviously want the program to be a success.

A successful internship program will bring many benefits to your business, including test-driving and finding future employees, increasing productivity, improving the overall work environment, and applying the latest advances in technology and social media marketing.

To maximize these benefits and launch a successful program, follow our guide 12 Steps to Setting Up an Internship Program. As you complete these steps, apply internship program best practices for optimal results.

In this article, we’ll share best practices from the National Association of College Employers (NACE), along with other intern and employer associations. Following these guidelines will not only provide you and your interns with a stellar experience, but it will also encourage interns to recommend your program to others, providing you with a wealth of future hires to choose from.

Top 12 Internship Program Best Practices

  1. Use the same hiring process you use to hire employees. Hiring an intern isn’t the same level of investment as hiring an employee, but it’s still an investment. And if you want a successful internship program that ideally leads to a few solid hires, it’s important to take the selection process just as seriously.

    Work with your team to generate a list of responsibilities for the interns. Next, devise a list of skills and knowledge that will be necessary to successfully complete these tasks. Interview a number of strong candidates, preferably with a panel of managers or other employees who will work closely with the intern.

    Not only will you hire the best interns for the job, but you’ll also provide your interns with real-world hiring process experience.

  2. Hold orientation. Bring your interns on board with an orientation that covers essential information about policies, procedures, responsibilities, and day-to-day operations. You can also discuss dress code, expectations, and answers to frequently asked questions.

    It’s helpful to provide this information in a physical or digital handbook, or in a special section of your website. Ensuring that interns have clearly defined roles and responsibilities, as well as an understanding of how your company operates, sets them up for success.

    To ensure that everyone is on the same page, you should also hold an orientation for managers and mentors who will work with the intern.

  3. Have an intern manager or mentor. This brings us to our next point: It’s essential to have an intern manager or mentor. This individual will be responsible for ensuring the internship program runs smoothly and keeping the program focused on criteria and outcomes.

    This will include working with the intern to develop goals, having regular progress meetings, encouraging the intern’s growth, and offering guidance. The mentor/manager will also evaluate how much your business is benefiting from the intern’s contributions, making adjustments as necessary.

  4. Develop a plan. Another component of the intern manager/mentor’s role should be following the intern’s developmental plan.

    This plan is similar to a job description you might create for employees. It should outline tasks and projects the intern will complete, specific desired outcomes, meetings to attend, staff members to spend time with, opportunities for learning and networking, etc. It’s a good idea to develop this plan prior to posting your internship position.

    Once you have a solid plan in place, post your internship on Chegg Internships. Include elements of the plan in your job description, indicating to potential interns that you’ve thoroughly planned the program and will give them a well-rounded, engaging, and beneficial experience.

  5. Pay interns. There are several reasons that successful internship programs pay interns. First, legal issues may arise if an unpaid intern is given real work assignments. To fully evaluate interns and gain real benefit for your business, real work assignments (and therefore pay) are essential.

    Additionally, you want access to the best possible candidates, not just those who can afford to forego a paycheck. Offering pay ensures that your internship is an option for all qualified candidates. It can also allow cash-strapped college students to contribute more time to your internship, rather than needing to take on a part-time job too.

    If payment is absolutely not an option for your business, compensate interns in other ways. This may include access to exciting opportunities and networking events, free food or luncheons with executives and mentors, a flexible schedule, and so on. Ensure that you follow all laws associated with working with unpaid interns.

  6. Provide meaningful work assignments. As mentioned above, the best way to assess your interns and reap significant benefits from the program is to give interns meaningful assignments.

    NACE points out that assignments should be:

    • Challenging
    • Related to the student’s major
    • Recognized by your organization as valuable
    • Lengthy enough to fill the entire work term

    Interns should not spend their entire internship answering phones, making copies, and filing paperwork. While these tasks can be part of the intern’s duties, they should not comprise the bulk of their responsibilities.

    Regularly talk to interns to see how they perceive the work they’re doing. Do they feel that they’re actively contributing to your business? Are they getting an authentic experience that reflects their career of interest? If not, work with your team to find assignments that are more meaningful and benefit both the intern and the organization.

  7. Bring in company executives to speak to interns. A “best case scenario,” according to NACE, is to bring your CEO in to talk to interns. Ideally, the CEO will answer questions, be personable, and even spend some informal time with the interns after speaking.

    This gets your CEO involved in your internship program, and the experience will be highly impressive to your interns. The more you create experiences that your interns will want to share with others, the more candidates you’ll have to choose from in the future.

  8. Provide training opportunities and helpful information. Show interns that you are genuinely invested in them by offering support, guidance, and training opportunities.

    When possible, offer in-house learning opportunities related to both work skills and general skills, such as time management or organization. You can also provide benefits and guidance such as:

    • Offering information about housing/relocation as needed
    • Providing scholarships when possible
    • Allowing a flexible work schedule
    • Asking about your intern’s specific career goals and offering advice and related opportunities
    • Encouraging feedback from your interns throughout the program

    Interns who feel supported and welcomed are more likely to come back for future internships, accept an offer of employment, and/or encourage others to work with you.

  9. Give your interns the full “company culture” experience. Be sure to include your intern in after-work outings, holiday parties, professional meetings, and any other events that your employees regularly attend.

    By including your intern in the extended experience of working for your company, both you and the intern can more accurately assess culture fit.

  10. Invite college/career center faculty and staff to visit interns on site. Some college internship programs require visits from career center staff and faculty as a component of the internship. For most programs, however, this is not the case.

    NACE recommends inviting career center staff and faculty to see your internship program in action. This way, you can strengthen your relationship with these groups, leading to enhanced campus visibility and more student referrals.

  11. Conduct exit interviews. The best way to continuously improve your internship program and assess your interns’ interest in returning is to conduct exit interviews.

    Have students fill out an exit survey and then bring it to the interview to provide structure. Interviews can be conducted either in person or over the phone, but do your best to gather genuine feedback from interns.

  12. Hire the best interns. The most sought after college students are accepting job offers as early as the fall prior to their spring graduation. When you know that an intern is a great fit, and the intern has come to value your company and enjoy working for you, don’t hesitate to extend an offer of full-time employment.

    Interns already have a proven track record of success within your company, making them the best possible hires for your business.

Employer takeaway: Use this guide and our "12 Steps to Setting Up an Internship Program" to develop a solid plan, then post your internship for free on Chegg Internships. As the world’s largest internship marketplace, we’ll connect you with top college students eager to work for you.