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Building a Successful Internship Program

Many organizations offer internship positions, which can be a great learning experience for students. Unfortunately, these programs are sometimes simply regarded as an opportunity for employers to benefit from an extra body to complete mundane and time-consuming tasks such as photocopying and opening mail. That being said, robust and well-designed internship opportunities can be greatly beneficial for both employers and students. By hiring students into internship opportunities, companies can receive valuable project support while also building their future talent pipelines.

Benefits of Quality Internship Programs

Staffing an organization with top talent is a proven path to business success, but securing highly qualified workers is becoming more difficult. Competing for skilled entry-level candidates requires creative solutions, and smart companies are developing new programs to deepen the pool of applicants.

Internship programs are a popular solution, as they are beneficial for both employers and students. These programs benefit employers because they bring in new talent, and when well-designed, internships often transition to full-time positions for students.

In addition, student interns expose members of the organization to the new ideas and cutting-edge research currently discussed in academic environments. These students also tend to be technologically savvy and can provide creative and innovative suggestions for revising existing processes for more efficient task completion.

Many employers discover there are benefits of internships for their current staff members as well. Employees who participate in mentoring and evaluating interns have opportunities to share their knowledge, demonstrate leadership skills and develop managerial skills that might not be available otherwise.

As interns experience the day-to-day operations of the organization, they also develop an impression of the company. When the impression is positive, they are likely to spread the word to their peers, which helps to build a solid employer brand across the student labor market.

8 Steps to Building an Internship Program

Launching an internship program is much more than bringing additional entry-level employees on board. Interns require attention to meet specific learning goals, so this program should be given the same consideration as any other company hiring initiative. The eight steps outlined below offer a comprehensive roadmap to creating a successful internship program for your organization:

1.      Benchmark the Competition

Evaluate internships offered by competing organizations through examining where they source students from, when they hire their interns, how many internships are available, and in which departments they're offered. Ask yourself the following questions: Are these positions highly competitive? What skills are required for them? What attracts applicants to competitors' internship programs?

Knowing this information about your competitors will allow you to work hard to set your organization and intern opportunities apart to draw candidates away from your competitors' internships and towards yours.

2.      Assess Organizational Hiring Needs

Examine the organization's staffing needs and locate specific areas of the business that could use the extra help and offer meaningful work opportunities for interns. Does your company have a robust finance department? Is your marketing team launching a new campaign? Activities related to these initiatives can offer interns valuable skills while the company receives the extra support needed.

It is also important to determine resource availability for interns, from practical considerations like desk and office space to availability of staff members who are willing to serve as trainers and mentors. When hosting interns, choose from the company's most successful departments with high morale to ensure a positive experience for everyone involved.

Timing is often critical to the success of an internship program because many organizations operate on an annual production cycle. Bringing interns in during peak production periods can result in lack of resources for training and mentoring. On the other hand, bringing interns in during the slowest part of the year may limit opportunities for them to add real value to large projects.

3.      Choose Educational Partners

While it is not strictly necessary to collaborate with educational institutions, it is easier to source internship candidates when your internship program meets course credit specifications. Determine whether the internship experience will be tailored to meet college and university requirements before moving forward. If so, initiate communication with appropriate contacts at the schools before making decisions about the learning objectives of your internship opportunity.

Begin by reaching out to the chair of the academic department that best matches the planned internship. Most schools publish an online faculty directory that includes phone numbers and email addresses. These contacts can give detailed information on program components that must be in place for students to earn course credit for their internships. Alternatively, you can simply connect with the school’s career center to learn more about the internship programs the school offers.

4.      Involve Stakeholders

As with any initiative, stakeholder buy-in determines how smoothly a program operates. Decide who will be involved in managing the program's components - for example, recruiters, managers, and mentors - then involve them in designing the internship. Typically, recruiters are responsible for securing candidates, managers handle day-to-day training and task assignment, and mentors discuss big-picture questions about the organization, the industry, and the intern's career plans.

5.      Document the Specifics

Create a written plan that includes details on all aspects of the internship experience. Important points include the following:

  • Length of internship
  • Specific start and end dates
  • Work location and travel expectations
  • Onboarding plan
  • Position responsibilities
  • Learning objectives
  • Supervision
  • Training
  • Mentoring
  • Compensation
  • Evaluation and feedback procedures

Be sure to note which individuals are responsible for each item in the plan and gain their commitment before moving forward.

6.      Create Management/Recruiting Partnerships

Create a partnership between recruiters and management to handle the tasks associated with candidate sourcing and hiring. Recruiters and managers can work together to write job descriptions, choose appropriate marketing mediums, review applications, conduct interviews, and make hiring decisions.

7.      Develop an Itinerary

Once a candidate is awarded the internship position and logistics have been settled, including start date and the compensation and perks offered, it is time to develop a detailed itinerary that maps out the intern's assignments. Include milestones, and consider what additional tasks the intern can take on if the original project is completed ahead of schedule.

8.      Promote Your Internship Program

Once your internship program is developed and ready to launch, consider communicating your available internship opportunities. You can share your internship postings with students across various campuses utilizing a recruitment tool such as Symplicity Recruit that makes posting jobs and screening applications simple and efficient.

Signs of an Effective Internship Program

When an internship program is well-planned, participants gain job experience, meet educational goals, and leave with important skills that will serve them in their future careers. The best internship programs incorporate the following aspects:

  • Learning goals - Make sure to develop specific learning goals and the opportunity for interns to reach them through structured responsibilities.
  • A formalized process - Create a formal learning process that includes observation, reflection, and evaluation. Frequent feedback is a must with millennial interns.
  • Mentorship - Ensure that the internship incorporates supervision by a skilled professional with the experience necessary to provide quality mentorship. Today's interns appreciate support in prioritizing and breaking projects into manageable portions.
  • Balanced focus - Balance your focus between the intern's learning and the organization's needs.
  • Opportunity to develop well-rounded skillsets - Your internship opportunities should aid in the interns' development of both industry-related skills and soft skills, such as communication and leadership abilities.

In summary, the best internships offer learning opportunities that are well-structured, properly supervised, and include the tools necessary to meet learning objectives. While it can be daunting to build a new program from the ground up, most businesses find that internships are well worth the effort.


Dey, L. (2016, November 9). Internships: The Ultimate Return on Investment For Today's College Student. Retrieved from

Garlieb, S. (2017). Building a Successful Internship Program. Retrieved from

Gregory, D. (2014, July 28). The ROI of Student Internship Programs at Startups. Retrieved from

Saidov, S. M. (2014, August 27). Improve the ROI of Internships. Retrieved from