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How to Create an Internship Program in 7 Easy Steps


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Heather R. Huhman, founder & president of Come Recommended, walks employers how to create an internship program, step-by-step.

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How to Create an Internship Program in 7 Easy Steps

  1. 1. © 2011 by Heather R. Huhman Copyright holder is licensing this under the Creative Commons License, Attribution 3.0. Special thanks to Katie Farrell, who helped research and write this e-book. Disclosure: This content was originally posted on > Please feel free to post this on your blog or e-mail it to whomever you believe would benefit from reading it. Thank HEATHER R. HUHMAN 2
  2. 2. STEP 1: THINGS TO CONSIDER Internships are quickly becoming one of the most important experiences in every college student’s career. It’s difficult to graduate from college and land an entry- level job without proving oneself at an internship (or several!). If you don’t current have an internship program in place, you’ve likely considered bringing on interns to lighten your workload or enhance your organization. What are some things to consider about creating an internship program? And how do you do it? Benefits for employers Bringing on talented young professionals through an internship program can benefit you in a variety of ways. Searching and hiring interns can create a talent pipeline for future entry-level job openings that you need to fill and will reduce your time spent searching for the right candidate. You’ll also save money by being able to combine college and intern recruiting efforts together. Starting a young professional off as an intern not only provides them with the necessary experience to excel in their field, but also gives you a chance to evaluate and assess them for the potential to grow in your organization. At the end of the internship period, you may even choose to hire them on full-time—and since they’veby HEATHER R. HUHMAN 3
  3. 3. already learned so much at your internship program, you won’t have to spend as much time or money training them as you would a new hire. Benefits for young professionals Young professionals that are brought on as interns have the opportunity to gain much-needed professional experience. They enjoy being able to learn by performing real tasks that talking with professionals in their field. Internship programs also help students grow their network, find mentors and create pieces for their portfolio. Unpaid internship laws Ever since the Fair Labor Standards Act started cracking down on unpaid internship programs, some organizations have shied away from creating a program for fear of legal problems. Familiarize yourself with the laws and construct your program accordingly. 1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational instruction; 2. The training is for the benefit of the trainees; 3. The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under their close observation;by HEATHER R. HUHMAN 4
  4. 4. 4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded; 5. The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period; and 6. The employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training. Mentorship Interns need to have a mentor provided for them to excel in their role—don’t just give them instructions and expect that to be enough. If you don’t have the time or resources to provide a mentor for your interns, you might want to reconsider creating a program. Interns need someone to provide guidance and be involved in their work in order for them to build upon their professional HEATHER R. HUHMAN 5
  5. 5. STEP 2: SETTING GOALS Even if you don’t currently have an internship program in place, you’ve likely considered bringing on interns to lighten your workload or enhance your organization. Previously, we discussed things to consider when creating a new program. This post will focus on setting goals for your organization, the management team, and the intern to create an all-around beneficial experience. Just like any other new venture, goals are one of the most important factors. Ask yourself: Why are we creating an internship program? Think about the following: • What do you hope to get out of the program? • Is your organization hoping to transition talented interns to entry-level employees? • Is your company growing rapidly and having a hard time finding motivated employees? • Are you a small company looking for extra help on a project? • Will the team have sufficient time to mentor and guide the intern(s)? • What will the intern learn during the internship period? • What will the candidate get out of interning for your company? Networking opportunities, a reference letter, skills?by HEATHER R. HUHMAN 6
  6. 6. • How many hours per week do you expect the intern to work? How long will the internship last: a semester, a summer, six months? • Will the internship offer an hourly wage or stipend? • Do you have adequate workspace for the intern? Will the intern work virtually (from home) or come into an office? • How will you communicate with the intern on a daily basis? • Will the intern receive any sort of training or on-boarding when hired in? After answering the above questions, sit down and create a written plan about every aspect of the internship program: Goals Expected Tasks/Projects • Supervisor/Mentorship • Training/On-boarding • Amount of time expected from intern • Compensation/benefits for intern • • Create attainable goals and set up a structure for your organization, your management team, and the intern. Having a plan in place helps the program run smoother and aids the people that will be interested in learning more about your program, such as potential candidates, campus career centers, and HEATHER R. HUHMAN 7
  7. 7. STEP 3: WRITING A PLAN & PROGRAM DESIGN One of the most important aspects of creating a new internship program is having a clear plan and design. Although you can always tweak it later, you want to create a good experience for incoming young professionals by developing a structure for your program. Goals: What will the intern accomplish by the end of the internship period? How will you measure success of your program? Tasks/Projects: What will the intern’s deadlines look like? How many tasks per week will they be expected to complete? What percentage of time will be dedicated to each area of learning? Supervisor/Mentorship: Who will supervise the intern on a day-to-day basis? Who should the intern report to? Who will provide assistance to the intern should they struggle with an assignment? Training/Onboarding: What type of training will the intern receive? Who will administer the training session(s)? Will the intern have access to a company internal network for further assistance and resources?by HEATHER R. HUHMAN 8
  8. 8. Time: How long will the internship last? How many hours per week will the intern dedicate to work? Will the intern be expected to attend anything additional (outside of the workplace)? Will your program be flexible to work with a college student’s schedule? Compensation: What benefits will the intern walk away with at the end of the internship? Networking opportunities, additional skills, a mentor, etc.? Will the intern receive an hourly wage, college credit, a stipend or a scholarship? Be sure to do your research in the industry and check out competitors to gauge what’s typical. Additional considerations you may want to include in your plan: Will the intern receive cross-training to learn more about your company? Will the intern have their own workspace? • What background and experience will you expect in an intern? • How will you advertise and promote your new program? • •by HEATHER R. HUHMAN 9
  9. 9. STEP 4: RECRUITMENT When you’re looking for an intern to take on, the last thing you want to do is make a bad hire and end up with more work on your plate than you anticipated. So how do you find quality intern candidates? Write quality job descriptions. First and foremost, you need to create a job description that will draw the right candidates in. It should detail tasks and projects, benefits for the candidate, your organization’s mission and values, and provide a direct contact at your company (as opposed to a generic e-mail address and no contact name). Throwing together a mediocre job description often yields mediocre candidates. Interact with campus career centers. Build a relationship with campus career centers at universities that offer a major in the field of your internship. At the very least, send the center a detailed job description and deadlines for your internship so they can send it out to their listserv of students who may be interested. If you want to do more, attend a career fair to interact directly with students and career counselors. Get to know internship coordinators on-campus. Career centers can point you in the right direction of a contact in a specific major on-campus. Often times,by HEATHER R. HUHMAN 10
  10. 10. internship coordinators are the first resource students turn to when they need to fulfill their requirement for their degree. Engage in social networking sites. Share information about your job posting and a link to the description with appropriate hashtags (#). Tell your followers when you’ll be on their campus searching for interns. Send updates about when you’ll be attending a campus career fair. See a candidate who looks like a good fit for your opening? Approach him or her directly and send the information over. Use current interns to help recruit their talented friends (referrals). Once your internship program is up and running, a great way to recruit future interns is to enlist your current ones to help by recommending friends and colleagues. Referrals can be one of the best ways to find future employees, if you set up your system efficiently. Use niche sites. There are many job sites focused on specific fields and industries, as well as geared towards intern candidates. Make sure to research which sites will yield the candidates you’re looking for and inquire about posting your opportunity there. Leverage your careers page. Many candidates start their job search by heading to what they perceive as the most credible source: an organization’s careers page. Is your careers page up-to-date and interactive? Your page should include current jobby HEATHER R. HUHMAN 11
  11. 11. openings and give a candidate a look into your company: videos, blogs, social media and newsletters can help with HEATHER R. HUHMAN 12
  12. 12. STEP 5: MANAGEMENT One of the keys to the success of your internship program is a proper and supportive management team. Interns are often students or recent graduates with little experience in the field, and they need guidance in order to learn the skills you want them to master. A manager should have time and resources available in order to onboard, train, and mentor the interns to excel in their role. According to Barry Shiflett, Director of Career Management Services at Florida International University, you need to carefully select the intern and site supervisor in order for your program to be successful. Consider the following: • Is this a professional member of your staff who is committed to and capable of developing people? • Does this person have the time to supervise interns? • Will they work with the internship coordinator in the college? • Can this person review resumes and/or applications and interview students? • Will this person be able to respond to all candidates? Along with those listed above, I would also advise you to consider these other important factors:by HEATHER R. HUHMAN 13
  13. 13. • Does this person understand what young professionals need in a workplace environment? • Will the manager be able to review assignment in a timely manner and provide feedback? • Will the manager serve as a mentor to interns? Or will they only have time to instruct interns? (As I’ve said before on my blog, “Learning doesn’t only happen when you “instruct” someone. Sometimes it has to be deeper, more involved than that. Yes, this can take (valuable) time. But then again, if you don’t have the time to mentor your intern(s), you should shut down your program.”) The management team for an internship program can ultimately make or break the success of the entire program. You’ll want to be sure that you’re choosing an employee that can provide a great experience for interns, help them learn more about the company and their industry, and prepare them for a future job in their HEATHER R. HUHMAN 14
  14. 14. STEP 6: PROVIDING FEEDBACK & EVALUATING YOUR INTERN Feedback is an important part of creating an internship program. Candidates need mentorship and feedback in order to learn and grow during throughout the process. They’re most likely still learning skills to excel in their industry, and your feedback will be priceless in helping them grow into young professionals. Feedback should never be solely focused on things the intern is doing “wrong.” Rather, it should be constructive criticism (or even praise!) based on the tasks or projects the intern is completing. Here are a few ways to provide constructive feedback: • Make it specific: Did the intern do a great job on the project you assigned them? What was great about it? What could be improved? Use facts and behaviors to provide constructive feedback. • Encourage two-way communication: Always be open to feedback about your internship program and supervisors. Ask interns how they would evaluate themselves or how they would solve a problem. Make it easy for interns to get in contact with you in-person or online. Interns provide a fresh perspective and new energy that organizations should take advantage of. • Provide feedback immediately: Don’t wait until a few weeks after a problem occurs or an intern did a spectacular job on a task—give feedback in a timelyby HEATHER R. HUHMAN 15
  15. 15. fashion. This way, the intern can continue learning and improving throughout the internship period. • Make it positive: While not every piece of feedback you give will be good feedback, you can always make it positive. Aim to improve an intern’s performance and behaviors through the feedback you provide. Throughout the internship period, a supervisor or mentor should give feedback on tasks and projects as they are completed. Feedback needs to be consistent and ongoing to give interns an idea of what they’ve been excelling at and where they need to improve. At the very end of the internship, more comprehensive feedback should be given to the intern. Many college internship programs require the supervisor to fill out an evaluation form to ensure the student receives credit for participating. However, this information is often only used for the school and not shared with the student. In addition to this feedback, share with the intern how interning at your organization will affect their future: Will they receive a job offer after the internship is over? Are they able to receive a recommendation letter? If your department isn’t hiring, are there other positions open you could refer them to?by HEATHER R. HUHMAN 16
  16. 16. STEP 7: EVALUATING YOUR PROGRAM & MAKING NECESSARY CHANGES Once you’ve hired your first intern, you can start thinking about evaluating your program and making necessary changes based on the evaluation feedback. Remember those goals you set before? Are you working toward achieving them Think about if the internship is meeting the needs of your organization. through your program? Consider how your program is meeting your intern’s needs. Are they gaining necessary experience in their field? Are they receiving real tasks and projects to complete? Ask a variety of people to evaluate your internship program, such as mentors, intern supervisors, department heads, other employees, and the interns themselves. Questions to include on the evaluation should include: • How beneficial was it to the department to bring on an intern (or interns)? • What would you change about the program for the next semester? • Did the interns receive timely feedback throughout the process? If no, why not?by HEATHER R. HUHMAN 17
  17. 17. • Can you think of other departments/projects that could benefit from implementing an internship program? Develop an exit survey for interns to complete to determine strengths and weaknesses of your program. Some questions to include might be: Do you view our company as a potential employer upon graduation? Did you receive timely feedback throughout your internship period? • What new skills did you learn while working here? • Was the amount of supervision provided during your internship adequate? • Did you receive proper training/orientation before beginning your • internship? • Did you feel this internship was a beneficial learning experience? Would you work for this supervisor again? • Would you work for this organization again? • Would you recommend this organization to other students? • • Once the internship program has been evaluated by employees and interns, take a close look at the feedback to determine any necessary changes to make. Since your internship program is just beginning, don’t be discouraged if there are many things that can use HEATHER R. HUHMAN 18
  18. 18. NEED HELP? By 2015, Generation Y will be the largest generation in the workforce. By combined. Come Recommended knows small businesses (and nonprofits) do the 2020, there will be more Gen Y workers than Baby Boomers and Generation X majority of the hiring in the U.S. So, we’ve cooked up a service just for you! If your organization is: • A for-profit with 100 (or fewer) employees or is a nonprofit of any size • Looking to hire an intern or entry-level (2 years experience or less) employee Then, for $150, we will: • Help you craft a description that will both appeal to Gen Y and clearly demonstrate what you are seeking in a candidate • Attract candidates to the position • Evaluate candidates based on the position description and their qualifications • Narrow down the selection for you to 2 or 3 top candidates • Provide you with a complete portfolio on each as to why you should hire them TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS SERVICE TODAY!by HEATHER R. HUHMAN 19
  19. 19. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Heather R. Huhman, founder & president of Come Recommended, is passionate about helping students and recent college graduates pursue their dream careers. As the oldest child in her family – even among her extended family – she did not have anyone to guide her through the trials and tribulations of developing her career. Now, as an experienced hiring manager and someone who has been in nearly every employment-related situation imaginable, she is serving as that much-needed guide for others. Heather knows and understands the needs of today’s employers and internship and entry-level job seekers. Her expertise in this area led to her selection as’s entry-level careers columnist in mid-2008. The daily, national column educates high school students through recent college graduates about how to find, land, and succeed at internships and entry-level jobs. Additionally, Heather blogs about career advice at, as well as a number of other publications. She is also the author of #ENTRYLEVELtweet: Taking Your Career from Classroom to Cubicle (2010) and the e-books 10 Years, 12 Jobs, 3 Careers: Lessons Learned from Taking My Career from Classroom to Cubicle to Penthouse (2010), Relocating for an Entry-Level Job: Why You Probably Have to & How to Do It (2010), Graduated, Unemployed & Un(der)insured: Why Provider & Plan Best for You (2010), and Gen Y Meets the Workforce: Launching Your Career During You Need to Stop What You’re Doing Right Now to Purchase Health Insurance and How to Pick the Economic Uncertainty (2008). Heather resides in the Washington, DC area with her husband, dog and two cats. She is available to answer your questions or speak at your next HEATHER R. HUHMAN 20