Building a Quality Internship Program

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Internships are a win-win for students, employers and the state of Indiana. The creativity, enthusiasm and productivity that interns are capable of bringing to the table make an internship program well worth the investment.

A successful internship allows students to explore career opportunities and put the knowledge they learn in the classroom to work in a professional environment. When employers take the time to mentor and train students, they are developing Indiana’s future workforce.

But how do you build a quality internship program?

Internship programs must be viewed as a commitment between an organization looking to meet its needs and a student working to gain real-world experience. All internships should include: a recruiting and hiring process; structured onboarding; an assigned supervisor and mentor; evaluation and assessment; and constructive offboarding.

Recruiting and Hiring
The most important piece of the recruiting and hiring progress is the internship description. It should be detailed and include organization biography, internship title, start/end dates, application deadline, position description and responsibilities, and preferred/required qualifications. These qualifications could be degree track, certifications or other skills applicable to the position.

Once the internship description is finalized, it’s time to recruit applicants! Internship positions can be promoted at college career/internship fairs, through social media and at online job boards such as IndianaINTERN.net. When posting on IndianaINTERN.net, your internships are shared with partner college/university job boards throughout the state, saving your organization time and recruiting costs.

As the application deadline approaches, evaluate the applicants based on the requirements for the position (previous experience, skills, etc.) and interview those who could be a good fit. Depending on your organization, there may be an interviewing and hiring procedure for you to follow.

Supervisor and Mentor
Identify a supervisor who will familiarize the intern with the organization, provide assignments and serve as the go-to person for questions. It is recommended that the supervisor be connected with the type of work the intern will perform to provide appropriate guidance. Intern supervisors should check in with the intern’s progress regularly and be available to provide assistance as needed. However, it is important to allow the intern to feel ownership in project work and be allowed to incorporate their own style and creativity.

The intern mentor is less of a project work advisor and more of a professional and personal coach assisting with “learning the ropes” of the organization and the industry at large. A mentor and intern should meet regularly to discuss the intern’s thoughts and questions about the organization, current and upcoming work, goals and how career plans may have altered.

According to Lex Dennis, chief strategy officer at enFocus, Inc., “it's important that interns have a source of professional development outside of their direct manager.” He recommends “asking interns what professional pathways they're interested in and get them meetings with people who fill those roles within your organization. If the intern is undecided, try to facilitate meetings with executives within the organization.”

Orientation and Onboarding
Planning is absolutely vital for internship onboarding. Before their arrival, you should set up the intern’s workspace and ensure they have access to necessary technology, software and supplies. An orientation schedule should be created and include an office tour, meetings with staff members and a welcome lunch. Be sure to communicate all important details to the intern prior to their first day: arrival time, dress code, documents to bring, parking and other necessary information.

Supervisors should develop a work plan tailored to the intern’s responsibilities and matching their skill set and goals. It should also include performance expectations and criteria for evaluations. As a part of orientation, the intern’s supervisor should discuss the plan with them and make any necessary adjustments.

Evaluation and Assessment
It is important to assess your intern and program to determine how the intern benefited from the experience and how your organization benefited from the intern. This could identify areas of improvement to enhance the learning experience for interns and increase the return on investment for your organization – creating a positive reputation for your program.

Aside from daily or weekly check-ins, the supervisor should conduct a mid-internship and final evaluation. At the mid-internship evaluation, the intern should identify areas in which they would like more exposure or increased responsibility. The supervisor should provide feedback on the intern’s performance thus far, commend work well done, address areas needing improvement and examine if the intern’s goals are being met. The final internship evaluation should be more formal, providing the intern a documented evaluation to submit to the intern’s academic institution (if needed) or for their portfolio.

Offboarding and Beyond

• Make sure the intern finishes projects or delegates tasks to another team member
• Discuss serving as a reference in future internship and job searches
• Have the intern create a presentation summarizing their internship and present it to staff members
• Host a going away celebration or go to lunch to thank them for the work
• Offer a full-time position (if applicable)
• Maintain communication via email, coffee meetings, etc.

If your organization would like to start an internship program, or if you’re looking for assistance with expanding your current program, Indiana INTERNnet is here to help. We provide a web site to facilitate student-employer matches at no cost and we also have instructional resources to help you build a standout internship program. You can also download our helpful employer guide.

Employers can apply for EARN Indiana funds, a program through the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, and receive reimbursement for up to 50% of an eligible intern’s wages. Students registered on IndianaINTERN.net can fill out a simple form to find out if they are eligible for EARN Indiana.

To register for our free services, visit IndianaINTERN.net or call (317) 264-6852 to speak with our staff about your internship needs.

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