Creating a Great Internship Program

If done correctly, internships can be a win-win proposition for students and companies. The student gains valuable working experience that will make them more marketable post graduation. The company has a pool of future job candidates whom they have already seen in action.

Unfortunately, many internship programs are poorly structured and don’t deliver the hoped for results.

Creating and maintaining a first-class internship program takes time and effort.  It’s not something you can do on the fly, 30 minutes before the intern arrives for their first day of work.  That’s a recipe for disaster.

I’d like to share with you my experience on putting together and running effective internship programs. Needless to say, I’ve made many mistakes along the way.

Internship template:  You know what a job description is and most companies use a standard template for their hiring process.  The same is true for an internship program. The more you can standardize your program, the better.  Here are some suggestions for what should go into this template:

  • Time Frame: define the start date and the end date. If it is a three month internship, give the specific dates: June 2nd – August 28th, 2016.
  • Project Mentor: Typically this is the person to whom the intern reports. The Project Mentor will fill out the internship template, have day-to-day responsibility for the student and rate their performance.
  • Project Buddy: This might be one of your younger employees and who can relate to the student on a personal level. They can give them a tour of the company, take them to the cafeteria for lunch and show them where the office supplies are. Their main responsibility is to come alongside the intern, especially during the first week, to make them feel welcome.
  • Key Objectives / accountabilities: This is where you define the work that the student will do during their internship. Be as specific as possible. It might be one large project or two or three smaller ones. Just like in a job description, these objectives need to be listed.  When the internship is over, the Project Mentor will rate the student against these objectives.
  • Key milestones: If the student is working on one project, break it down into deliverables with a date. This will help the student manage their time and seek support early if something is not going as planned.
  • Travel requirements: If the student has to travel during their internship, this should be listed with sufficient detail.
  • Project presentation: During the last week of the internship (set the date and time) the student should have the opportunity to present their project and its results to department members with whom they have worked. All colleagues should take this seriously and make every effort to attend.

This internship template should be completed and sent to the student a month prior to the start of their assignment.  I would suggest that the Project Mentor sets up a phone call to discuss the contents and answer any questions that the student may have.

Here are some other issues that need to be addressed well in advance of the student starting their internship:

  • Payment to student: Most students expect to be paid for their internship. This is typically in the range of $10 – $20 / hour.  Do some research to find out what the going rate is in your industry and location.
  • Transportation: If the student has to travel across the country or across the Atlantic to get to and from their internship, the issue of transportation expenses needs to be addressed. Typically, the company would pay for this.
  • Housing: The student may need the support of the company to find them housing for the period of their internships.  If the student is going to a foreign country they might enjoy living with a guest family.  The cost of housing and who pays for this should also be clarified.
  • Visa and Work Permit: For international internships, the company will need to apply early for a visa and work permit.

At the end of the internship the student and the Project Mentor should give feedback of the experience they have had with the internship program. The Project Mentor should answer the following questions and discuss this document with the intern:

  • Brief description of the project(s) the intern worked on and performance achieved.
  • What were the areas where the intern demonstrated strengths?
  • What areas could the intern improve in?
  • Summary of the assignment.
  • Signature and date by both the Project Mentor and Intern.

Here are some questions that the student could answer in writing at the end of their internship:

  • Was the internship challenging?
  • What did you learn?
  • What parts of the internship did you like the most?
  • Are there areas for improvement? If so, what?
  • If there were two changes you would make to the program, what would they be?
  • Did you receive the guidance you needed from your Project Mentor? From your Project Buddy?
  • What is your impression of our company?

Putting a good internship program will take time and commitment. But the investment will pay big dividends for the student and company.