This Is How You Set Up a Meaningful Internship Program

Gusto Editors

Interns don’t exist for your impromptu coffee runs—they’re hungry, eager, and ready to make a real dent in what you’re working towards. Way better than coffee, right? The thing is, there are a few rules of thumb you need to follow if you want to make sure your interns are having a worthwhile time and truly contributing to your company. Scroll on to learn how to incorporate those items so you can give your intern an insanely awesome experience.

Double-check that you actually have time to ramp them up

Interns take more time to set up than you may think. Most gigs require a hefty investment from you and your team for the experience to actually be valuable. Think about it. Since interns are often in school, they succeed with lots of structure. So, be sure to put all those check-ins and processes in place before day one. That includes outlining projects, setting up milestones, giving feedback… basically orchestrating the whole shebang.  

Designate a manager

Ideally, you want one person to be your intern’s main point of contact when it comes to work stuff. You also want another person to mentor them (more on that later). Don’t forget that if your intern’s workload touches various parts of the company, other employees will need to spend time with them. (Over)communicate that to everyone involved so they can carve out enough time.

Don’t know who to pick? Here’s how to identify a manager for your new hire:

  • Poll your team to see who’s interested in participating in the program. Use Google Forms or Typeform to get your answers quickly.
  • Circle back with those interested folks to see who really has the time to manage and/or mentor them.
  • Match up that interest and bandwidth with what your business needs during the potential hiring timeframe. If all factors are aligned, then you have yourself an answer.

Guaranteeing that you have dedicated people on hand to field your intern’s questions and keep them on track is key—well before you start talking to potential candidates.

Be clear about what you’re looking for

First, decide on specific start and end dates so everyone knows what’s going on from the beginning. Once you know the timeline, list out the duties you want your intern to accomplish. Having a set of requirements from the start will make it easy for you to figure out what they need to be working on at any given moment. More than a few areas on your mind? Think about hiring multiple interns that focus on multiple things.

Then, write a job description to help solidify what you’re looking for. Once it’s nice and polished, use it to promote the opportunity. Pack in key elements like duration, schedule, and an overview of what your intern will be doing in a typical day.

Get your timing right

Not all internships are summer flings. Think about the time of year where extra hands on deck would help out, and then work around that period. If you’re eyeing local universities for talent, you may want to time the internship around school breaks or semesters. Consider recruiting two to three months before you want someone to start, right at the time when students are figuring out what they want to do during their break. You can also partner with career development centers at local universities to advertise the opportunity and funnel students your way.

Choose a unique project, and let them own it

It’s important to pick projects that are meaningful to the company but also provide a learning experience for your new worker. For example, instead of picking a task that they already do in school, like research or writing papers, splice it with something new that they might not have covered in their classes, like attending a client meeting. Also, try to give them at least one project they can own from beginning to end. This will give your intern a sense of accomplishment, and allows them to have a tangible piece of work that came out of their time with you.

Onboard them for real

Onboarding isn’t solely for full-time employees. Take the time to give your interns a first-day experience that not only covers their responsibilities, but also the smallest details, like what the dress code is and what they should do for lunch. (Psst… take them out for lunch on the first day. It’s so worth it.)

One big part of onboarding should include translating all the vocab they need to know in order to achieve the tasks on their plate. Explain how you, or their manager, like to communicate. This is particularly important since in the beginning, they’re likely to have endless questions.

Want more onboarding advice? Use this checklist to make sure your intern’s first day rocks.

Assign your intern a mentor

Beyond the work stuff, what else can your intern learn from your team? Select someone in your company that is personable, good at what they do, and also has the time to dedicate to your new hire. This could be someone with their dream job, a similar field of study, or perhaps a person who went to the same school as them. If there are a few candidates swirling around, have your intern pick the person they could learn the most from. Help your intern select a meaningful mentor with these pointers.

Once the mentor is locked into place, have them schedule lunches, social events, and work-along sessions so they can get ample facetime together. A mentor is also a great person to help them deal with the office unknowns without forcing your new worker to ask their manager.

Check in throughout the internship

Once the internship is underway, schedule weekly check-ins to make sure they’re feeling comfortable and getting what they want out of the experience. Also, pepper their projects with milestones so they know exactly what steps they need to cross off their list in order to be effective. Hiring remote interns? No biggie. Just make sure you still conduct regular check-ins, whether that’s through video conference or a simple phone call.

The internship experience doesn’t have to make you seasick. In fact, if you thoughtfully plan out the experience with your team, it should be a smooth ride for everyone involved. Use the tips above to help you, your company, and the star of the whole show—your talented intern—reach new heights.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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