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5 Ways to Build a Successful Internship Program

Let's be honest, we've all worked at companies where college interns are thought of as the bottom man or woman on the totem pole. You may have even been at the bottom of that totem pole yourself some time ago! Interns are asked to do the most minuscule tasks like grabbing coffee, filling up the copier with paper, sorting mail, and anything else you can imagine. Although these tasks need to get done, could your intern be utilized in a way that is more impactful and beneficial to your company? Here are a few things to keep in mind when hiring your next intern to help you build your very own successful internship program.

1. Set Clear Expectations

It's important to set clear job expectations for your interns and the rest of your staff. Most employees need direction and structure and interns are no different. Setting some ground rules for your interns such as their arrival, break, and departure time is a good start, but consider sitting down with them to go over their responsibilities and your mutually agreed upon goals and objectives for their internship. It's also important to communicate to the rest of your staff what the intern will be doing so that they can also give them tasks and projects that will assist the intern in achieving the goals you set for them. Communicate your expectations in person and follow up with a personal email so your intern has them in writing and can refer to them as needed. Make sure you check in with them regularly to determine if there are any obstacles you can help them overcome and how their overall experience is going. Checking in early and often, gives you an opportunity to course correct if things aren't going well.

2. Be Flexible With Schedules

Intern schedules can be hectic during the school year and sometimes during the summer if they decide to take classes, so flexibility is key to attracting quality interns. Be sure to include the manager they'll be reporting to so they know when to expect them and can assign projects and tasks accordingly. For example, if you have an accounting intern that can't work on Fridays due to their class schedule, it's probably not a good idea to assign them to assist payroll submission that's due on Fridays. If you plan to retain your intern for more than one semester, be sure to reevaluate their class schedule at the change of each semester to adjust their work schedule and responsibilities as you needed.

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3. Include Your Intern in Meetings and on Projects

One of the best ways to build a successful internship program is to offer your intern real world experience that they can apply to their future careers. Give them the opportunity to join important meetings and projects. Listening in on meetings can teach interns how to communicate, collaborate with a team, prioritize, stay on task, etc. This type of real work-life experience is priceless. One of your main goals in building a successful internship program is to expose your intern to the way your company operates and accomplishes tasks and meets important deadlines as a team so that they will either consider working for you full time once they graduate, or refer you to their job-seeking classmates. Be sure to communicate to your staff that a your new intern will be joining meetings and working on projects so they feel comfortable and ready to help them navigate through each task and answer questions. This can also be beneficial to your business because often times, we get so close to our company, products, services, jargon, etc. and allowing a cold audience to come in with a fresh perspective, just might give you the next great idea for your company.

4. Don't Be Afraid to Give—and Receive—Feedback

One of the most important things you can offer your intern is constructive feedback. Don't be afraid to discuss their work and progress just like you would with any other employee. It's important to check in with your new intern so you can get a pulse on how they're doing and if they're liking their job and responsibilities. You can also gauge if your company's internship program needs improvement by asking your intern how their experience is going and if there is anything you can do to possibly improve. Schedule one-on-one time with your new intern to address any concerns, ideas, or just to chat and get to know a little more about them. It can be intimidating for a young college student or recent grad to speak candidly with a manager or business owner, so the more often you meet with them and spend time getting to know them, the more comfortable they will be with providing honest and open feedback to you.

5. Provide Tangible Experiences

Real-life work experience is one of the best things you can offer your intern, thus ensuring future interns flock to your company. After all, this is the digital age, and your intern program will get reviewed! Make sure you give your intern the opportunity to work on projects that will truly give them experience they can take with them. If you hire a social media intern, give them the opportunity to craft tweets or respond to customers (with an approved script, of course). If you have an event coordinator intern, take them with you on site visits or to meet with vendor partners. This will allow them to learn how to communicate, negotiate, and thoroughly review and vet contracts, among other things. Ask your intern for their input on certain tasks and processes that your business currently uses. Just because you've always done something one way, doesn't mean it can't use a refresh! Exit interviews are also key so you can gain immediate feedback about your program and make any necessary adjustments.

Employing interns is an investment, for both you and the them. Make sure you both gain the most value out of your short time together by investing the time and energy needed to build a successful internship program that students and graduates will flock to.

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Victoria Penn

Victoria Penn is the AVP of Marketing for SWBC. She manages a team of marketers that develop traditional and digital marketing strategies. She also leads the Content Marketing Strategy for SWBC.

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