Providing interns with real work is number one to ensuring your program’s success. Interns should be doing work related to their major, that is challenging, that is recognized by the organization as valuable, and that fills the entire work term.
It’s important that everyone “be on the same page,” so to speak. Make this happen by holding an orientation session. Orientations ensure that everyone starts with the same expectations and role definitions. This is time well spent—the effort you put into these sessions will pay off throughout the program.
Whether in paper booklet format, or presented as a special section on your website, a handbook serves as a guide for students, answering frequently asked questions and communicating the “rules” in a warm and welcoming way. A separate intern website serves many of the purposes of the handbook, but has the advantage of being easy to change. You can use your website as a communication tool, with announcements and/or internship postings.
Few employers can afford to provide fully paid housing for interns, but you’ll find that you get a lot of appreciation if you offer any kind of assistance toward housing expenses. If that’s not possible, provide assistance in locating affordable housing: For those relocating to the internship site, the prospect of finding affordable, short-term housing can be daunting. Easy availability of affordable housing will make your opportunity more attractive to students, broadening your pool of candidates.
If you can pay for all or some of your interns’ housing, be sure to design (and stick to) a clear policy detailing who is eligible. This will eliminate any perceptions of unequal treatment. In addition, be aware that employer-paid or employer-subsidized housing is considered a taxable benefit. Check with your internal tax department on exceptions to this.
You will also want to consider the issue of relocation, which is separate although related to housing. Many organizations pay some or all of their interns’ relocation expenses to and/or from the job site.
Pairing a scholarship with your internship is a great way to recruit for your internship program—and this is especially true if you are having difficulty attracting a particular type of student or student with a specific skill set to your program. Attaching a scholarship can increase your pool of candidates with the desired qualifications.
Students mention flex-time as one of their most-desired features in a job. (A flexible time schedule during their internship eases their transition to the workplace.) Other work arrangements that have been found successful with students include keeping them on as part-time, remote employees after they go back to school (depending on the type of work they do for you and whether they have a willing manager), and having them come back and work over school breaks for a couple of weeks. These are excellent ways to keep communications open and build a stronger bond.
Having a dedicated manager for your intern program is the best way to ensure that it runs smoothly and stays focused on your criteria for success. Unfortunately, the size and resources available to most internship programs mean that this isn’t always possible. If your program isn’t big enough to warrant a dedicated full-time staff member, an excellent short-term solution is to hire a graduate student (look for a student working toward an advanced HR degree) to be your intern, and put this college relations intern in charge of the daily operation of the internship program. This gives the interns a “go-to” person, and gives you and your staff a break from the many daily tasks involved in running a program of any size. For this to work, you have to plan the program structure in advance (don’t expect your intern to do it), and be very accessible to your college relations intern.
Involve your organization’s college recruiting teams—whether they are “volunteers” who participate in college recruiting, staff members dedicated to college recruiting, or some combination of both—in your intern program. They can sponsor social or professional development events, and help to orient the interns to your company culture.
In general, career center staff and faculty members have relatively few opportunities to visit employer work sites to see firsthand the types of experiences their students are having. By inviting them to your site, you will build a better working relationship with these groups, which can lead to more student referrals, enhanced campus visibility, and increased flexibility on their parts when your business needs dictate it.
New-hire panels are one of the best ways to showcase an organization to interns as a great place to work. These are panels of five or six people who were hired as new grads within the last three years. They act as panelists in a meeting of interns, giving a brief summary of their background and then answering questions from the intern audience. Your interns get insight about your organization from your new hires—people who they perceive are like themselves and who they consequently view as credible sources of information.
One of the greatest advantages to students in having internships is the access they get to accomplished professionals in their field. Consequently, speakers from the executive ranks are very popular with students—it’s a great career development and role modeling experience for interns. Having a CEO speak is especially impressive. Best scenario: Your CEO speaker is personable, willing to answer questions, and willing and able to spend a little informal time with the students after speaking—your interns will be quite impressed. For you, having your executives speak to interns is another way to “sell” your organization to the interns, and get your executives invested in (and supporting) your program.
Providing students with access to in-house training—both in work-skills-related areas, such as a computer language, and in general skills areas, such as time management—is a tangible way to show students you are interested in their development.
Conducting focus groups and feedback surveys with these representatives of your target group is a great way to see your organization as the students see it. Focus groups in particular can yield information about what your competitors are doing that students find appealing.
Students work very hard at completing their work and are generally proud of their accomplishments. Setting up a venue for them to do presentations (formal presentations or in a fair-type setting such as an expo) not only allows them to demonstrate their achievements, but also showcases the internship program to all employees.
Whether face-to-face or over the telephone, a real-time exit interview is an excellent way to gather feedback on the student’s experience and to assess their interest in coming back. Having the students fill out an exit survey and bring it to the interview gives some structure to the conversation.
Excerpted from Building a Premier Internship Program: A Practical Guide for Employers, Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.