12 Steps to Setting Up an Internship Program - Intern Program Tips

Updated: 12/4/2018


If you’re unsure how to start an internship program, read our complete 12-step guide. Then, post your internship on Internships.com to recruit top talent.

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

The key to successfully setting up an internship program is simple: Have a plan. As with any project, outlining the concrete steps necessary to reach your goal keeps you focused and increases your chances of success.

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. This 12-step plan will smoothly guide you from wishing you had an internship program to enjoying 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: 

Beginning with the Employer Resources section of Chegg Internships, read and research as much as possible about the internship industry. We’ll give you all the information you need on how to create an internship, including recruiting and interviewing prospective interns, running the program, and even writing internship descriptions for your job posting. 

2. Evaluate your organization. Once you’ve grasped what an intern program entails, your next step is to conduct an internal assessment of your company's needs and resources. What is your organization hoping to gain from the internship program? What will you need to provide your interns to help them succeed?

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
  • How your physical space and equipment will accommodate additional individuals

3. Learn about legality. Before you design your program, it's wise to understand 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.

For example, The Fair Labor Standards Act dictates that employees must be paid. Interns may or may not be considered employees. For an intern to be unpaid, the following criteria must be met: 

  • The intern and employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation.
  • A job is not guaranteed at the end of the internship.
  • The intern is the “primary beneficiary” of the relationship: The internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments and provides beneficial learning opportunities.
  • The intern’s work does not replace the work of paid employees. 

If the intern meets the definition of an employee, he or she is legally entitled to payment. Employers may encounter legal issues if an unpaid intern is given real work assignments that benefit the company. To maximize the usefulness of your internship program, it’s typically better to have a paid program. This also motivates interns to contribute more to the organization.

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 internship programs for college students are always in exchange for college or university credit. While an internship is a learning experience, whether or not educational credit is obtained is strictly between the student and his or her school.

Plan & Design.

5. Gain business-wide backing. For an intern program 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.

Prepare a presentation explaining how an internship program can help your organization reach its objectives. For instance, your employees may be interested in learning that interns can: 

  • Create more time for current employees to work on advanced or creative projects.
  • Help an organization apply the latest strategies and technology in the field.
  • Enhance your company’s social strategy and/or social media presence, promoting public relations and community involvement.
  • Provide mentorship and leadership opportunities for employees.
  • Generate awareness of your organization for future hires and create enthusiasm among other students.
  • Introduce fresh perspectives on organizational issues.

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

Consider the following:

  • What do you want your intern(s) to accomplish during the program?
  • What will orientation entail? What expectations and policies will need to be explained? Provide a handbook or website if possible.
  • What will your intern(s) do on a daily basis, and what are some projects you may assign?
  • Who will supervise and mentor the intern(s)?
  • Plan to have a midpoint and final evaluation. Discuss how the intern is contributing, strengths and areas needing growth, and any other feedback for the intern. Invite the intern to report on project status and ask questions.
  • An exit interview is also among best practices for internship programs. What questions will you ask to gather feedback on the program and the intern’s experience?

7.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.

8. Delegate duties. Having staff members take ownership of key roles and responsibilities ensures implementation will move forward successfully. Selecting an internship supervisor and/or mentor is essential to ensuring your program runs smoothly.

This person will assist in hiring interns, conduct an orientation, collaborate with the intern to develop learning goals, and regularly evaluate the intern’s performance and the success of the program.

Make sure intern supervisors have the time and resources to effectively manage the participants and the program itself.

9. Select a start date for interns. Leaving your launch date open-ended almost guarantees procrastination. Instead, setting a date will facilitate proper planning.  

On average, employers begin recruiting interns about eight months ahead of the internship start date. If that much time isn’t realistic for you, try to give yourself at least two months for recruiting and onboarding candidates.

Take Action.

10. Post the position. Posting openings on Chegg Internships, the largest internship marketplace in the world, gives you exposure to the top student talent.

Filling out the position profile is simple and allows you to explain the position, the industry, and the benefits of working for your business. The site also includes sample job descriptions if you’re unsure how to create an internship posting.

11. 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.

12. 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 is involved in selecting a candidate. Finally, refer to your program structure (designed in step six) to begin your onboarding and orientation process.

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