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Build an Internship Program that Actually Benefits Your Business

Do you have an internship program? Is it working? If it’s working, the following statements will be true:

  1. Many of your interns stay with the company beyond their internship.
  2. Your interns leave with at least four skills they did not have.
  3. You allow your interns to make decisions and help them learn accountability for those decisions.
  4. Your internships are PAID.

If none of these are true and you’re just allowing young people to come in and warm chairs, well…you’re doing it wrong. Building an internship program is an investment in the people who will be running your company some day. A reported 80% of employers view recruiting as a primary function of internships and looking at your program as a glorified coffee delivery service does you and your interns a disservice.

And it’s not just you. Your interns give current employees, even entry-level ones, a chance to build mentorship, training and onboarding skills in a way that nothing else can. Here are some great ways to create an internship program that benefits your company, your employees and your interns (AKA future employees).

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Treat Interns Like Employees

Because that’s what you hope they will be one day. The selection, interview and hiring process should be aligned with your actual interview process. Remember that this is the introduction to your company. If you treat it casually, or as less important, you are undercutting a future employee’s view of the company. Not to mention the effect it might have on referrals and employer brand.

Be Present as a Holistic Mentor

Interns may be new to the area, new to the industry and new to your company. Build loyalty by being a great resource to them. Show them processes that are best practice in your industry, give them access to tools they could never afford on their own, invest in their acclimation to your area. A great side effect of this (if you live in a smaller city or rural area) is that you can help avoid the brain drain that is so common in many areas. Plus, mentoring has helped managers increase their own productivity by 88%.

Treat Interns like Grown-Ups

Enough with intern programs that give college students a “work pacifier”. They have energy and drive, so use that! Work with interns to focus their brainstorming, to leverage their energy and excitement to try new tasks and even (gasp!) let them fail a little bit. Holding interns accountable is the perfect way to teach them how to set goals and then live up to those goals. In virtually any work environment, productivity is highly valued, as is the ability to measure productivity and real results. Give interns the ability to do both and you’ve created an internship program that will benefit your community, your company and the economy.

Make Sure Your Culture Does Not Suck

Shockingly, many millennials and now Gen Z aren’t as interested in nap pods and Burrito Thursday (although we’d never suggest getting rid of burritos!) Instead, interns are looking for how to grow their career. Understand their motivation and you understand what to highlight in job postings, at career fairs and more. To avoid painting all interns with a broad brush, add a quick drop down or radio selection to your application, or a question to your interview process that gives them the opportunity to identify what students want to get out of an internship.

Go Mobile

Not just with your postings but with your opportunities. While it’s not just the younger generations who want to work remotely or use flex-work, it IS the generation pushing more companies to examine just why exactly we need to be in the office all the time. And many companies are coming to the conclusion that some of the best talent would prefer to have a little more control over their work-life balance. This doesn’t mean every intern gets to work from home every day. It means offering strong communication processes, alternative schedules (many interns are still in school) and internship-sharing offerings…and maybe a couple of work from home days per week.

Build Your Brand with Interns

Employer reviews, social media activity, your Snapchat channel. Harness the energy your newest interns have by tasking them with getting the word out! Have interns encourage their friends to apply, give them daily tasks to “boost” social content and show them easily how to leave reviews during or after their internship. Remember to create specific parameters around how and when to do this, or you’ll end up with 23 reviews all on the same day or inconsistently branded Snapchat channels you can’t control when and if your interns leave.

Give Microfeedback

Your interns are like plants. They need sunlight, water and attention. In fact, 42% of Millennials want feedback every week. While it may feel like constantly giving feedback is a time suck, there are programs that can help you stay on track. By creating a pattern of critical and accolade feedback, you create a culture of performance, rather than avoidance. Can’t give regular feedback? Schedule regular meetups to get face time with your intern group at least monthly.

Find Out Why and Where They’re Going

You can’t manage what you don’t measure and your internship program will never work if you don’t know what happens next. Whether your interns are sticking around, leaving for greener pastures or just heading back to school, you need to know what their experiences were. Make an objective survey and follow it up with a more personal interview. And if the internship worked out, always extend the offer for future employment.