Planning for a Successful Internship Program
Internship programs are not just a valuable learning experience for students, but an advantageous opportunity for organizations to engage with top-tier talent at a reasonable cost. However, the way you structure the responsibilities and experience of an internship program makes all the difference in maximizing the overall value to your organization. Not only are you seeking a quality candidate that will provide value for the internship term, but also cultivating future talent and creating a work environment based on learning and teamwork.
It is estimated that 20-25% of newly hired employees come from company internship programs, and it is a great way for your organization and the candidate to test the fit without the risks or commitments associated with full-time employment.
It is important to make your interns feel as if they are contributing members of the team and working in his or her field of study or interest. Assign a mentor to every intern and a manager who will delegate projects that promote their academic, career, and personal development. It is important to schedule time with interns to review learning objectives and to provide feedback on performance. You must remember that this is often an intern’s first professional experience, and they are actively looking for direction and positive feedback. You’ll also need a degree of patience and program aspects built into the program that cultivate soft skills like organization, professional communication, and project management.
It is important to balance your intern’s learning goals with those of the organization; after all, an intern who feels they are benefitting from the program will be more productive as a temporary employee. Additionally, be sure to document the program and the candidate’s progress to report to their university for academic credit.
To Pay or Not to Pay?
Businesses are coming to the realization that some of their most valuable personnel are cultivated from internship programs. While once exclusively considered an unpaid gig, the number of paid internship positions is increasing. Any top candidate with a choice between a paid and unpaid position will almost always select the paid internship, even if it is not the better choice in terms of alignment with their career goals. You must also face the reality that many high-talent interns rely on income from internships and other side jobs to fund their education and living expenses. If you feel your company attracts top talent with unpaid positions, you are still limiting your candidate pool to those with the financial capacity to take on an unpaid opportunity. And it goes without saying, well-compensated employees are usually happier and more productive employees. A well-structured internship program that attracts and retains top talent will be worth the expense in the long run. Many professional services firms and employer of record (EOR) firms that offer human resource services can help you navigate the legal qualifications for employing interns and can leverage existing partnerships with universities in your area to attract the best local talent.
While interns are traditionally placed during the summer between semesters, many universities are now offering more flexible schedules, such as trimesters, or designated course time for students to engage in internship opportunities. These changes, in addition to the increasing prevalence of online courses, have opened the opportunity for internship programs all year. By structuring your program to fit into the everyday workflow of your organization, you can engage top talent looking for internships at any time. Many employers now require internship experience for entry level positions, and internship programs have become increasingly more competitive over the past decade. By making your internship program a year-round opportunity, you can take advantage of top candidates who may not be interning during the summer.
Interns should go through a formal orientation process like all full-time employees. They should be given the same information all employees receive, so that they feel they understand organizational operations and can provide value. Partnering with a human resources provider can help streamline this process and guide your team to a more formalized process. Just like all employees, interns should also receive a mid-point review and an exit interview at the end of their term. Feedback gathered from these meetings can be used to improve the program and attract even higher-level talent in the future.
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