From Intern to Employee: What It Takes to Create a Successful Internship Program

Spring is here and, for most college students, that means graduation or summer break is just weeks away.  Soon these fresh graduates and a new cohort of rising college juniors and seniors will be out in the marketplace searching for opportunities to develop their skills and hone their professional interests. Many students have already applied and committed to internship programs over the past several months, and many internship programs are already fully subscribed. But fear not! If your program still has vacancies, or if you don’t yet have an internship program, there are still plenty of qualified students out there.  

While internships offer many benefits to students, such as the opportunity to apply classroom knowledge to the workplace, gain practical experience, and test-drive careers, internships can also provide advantages for companies. Today, many top companies use internship programs as a talent pipeline to develop future employees. Internships allow companies to “try before they buy”, ensuring they hire quality candidates who already have first-hand experience with the organization.

While many companies have already planned out their internships, it’s never too late to follow suit and begin an internship program of your own. Before you get started, however, it’s important to consider and plan for three key stages of the internship building process. Following these points will help you create a great internship program and recruit qualified talent for your company.

1. Consider the Why

Before we delve into the details of creating a great internship program, it’s important to take a step back and think about your company’s goals and the motivations behind your internship program. Are you hiring interns to help with administrative tasks around the office? Seeking help for those small, ongoing projects is fine, but you probably won’t attract the highly skilled candidates you might be hoping for. On the other hand, if attracting top quality candidates who might one day become full-time employees is your goal, you’ll need to design a program that offers valuable work experience and might even include some form of compensation.

Interns can also be a great benefit for organizations in unexpected ways. For example, recent graduates and current college students often bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to a company. While they may lack in hands-on experience, they have spent significant time studying and researching new industry trends in the classroom. Who better, then, to research, analyze and report on that new software you’re considering adopting? In the IT field, students with a passion for tech have likely spent time outside the classroom immersing themselves in the latest tech tools. As interns, they might be better informed than some full-time employees when it comes to new development platforms or software, and this outside perspective can be a great asset for your organization.

Considering the goals of your program and what benefits potential interns might offer your organization helps lay the foundation for creating a great internship program and allows you to move forward on the specifics with a clear purpose in mind.

2. Define the Details

You’ve decided to start an internship program and you’ve come up with a few goals that you want the program to focus on. Now, it’s time to dig into the details.

First, you’ll need to think about what type of work or projects interns will be assigned. In general, it’s best to choose projects with a clear start and end date, as well as defined outputs. Trying to integrate a summer intern into your day-to-day operations can be tricky, since they’ll ultimately be leaving at the end of the program. Another way to keep intern projects organized and productive is to develop a workplan or hold weekly check-ins. Some successful programs even tailor the work to an intern’s specific goals, passions or skills. While this might require more of your time up front, providing clear and concise projects for interns helps them stay motivated and ensures everyone, intern and organization, benefits from the experience.

In addition to work projects, another detail to discuss when creating your internship program is duration. Sure, summer internships are still the most common, but don’t rule out the possibility of extending your internship program year-round. Many students now seek work or internship opportunities during their regular academic semesters as well. This allows them to gain work experience in different roles and organizations, making them a more attractive, skilled job applicant by the time they graduate.

Other programs will offer top performing interns the option to continue their internship beyond the summer. Extending an internship in this way or planning for a longer internship program from the start can help your organization determine if the interns you’ve hired are a good fit. The longer they stay, the more they’ll learn about your company, and the more productive they’re likely to be, factors which could all help determine whether they’re suited for full-time employment.

Finally, think about the compensation your program will offer. As internship programs have become more competitive some companies have started offering hourly pay, living or travel stipends, scholarships or other benefits to entice top candidates. If you don’t have the budget to offer monetary compensation to interns, think about other ways your program might benefit them. Do you offer mentorship opportunities or lunch events that help interns network with full-time employees? Lastly, be aware of the legal ramifications of offering paid and unpaid internships. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Fact Sheet #71 provides important guidelines about fair labor standards and internship programs.

3. Sourcing and Selecting Talent

The details have been decided, now all you need to do is find a few great interns. Easier said than done, right? Many internship programs rely on college job boards or on-campus career centers to promote their internship offerings, and these are certainly a good place to start your search. However, there are also a few less traditional talent sourcing options that might work better for your program.

Are you looking for talent with specific tech skills? Find out if your local university offers courses that cover that skill, then reach out to the professor and see if you can speak to the class. The professor benefits from having a professional talk to their students and visiting a class in person allows you to engage directly with potential interns about your program. Another great way to find interested applicants is to reach out to student organizations or on-campus groups. These student groups tend to be organized around specific topics or issues and sharing your internship program with relevant groups could attract talent with a passion for the work you’re doing.

Last, hire your interns in the same way you would your full-time employees. Your internship program may only last a few months but hiring with a long-term focus ensures that you bring on the best people for the program. Reviewing their materials, conducting interviews, checking references and vetting applicants in this way may require more work up front, but it’s likely to pay off in the long run. If things work out, these interns might one day become your full-time employees. That’s what we call a successful internship program!

At Benchmark IT, we know a few things about finding great tech talent. Contact us today to find out how we can help your business.

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