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Going From Hosting an Intern to Managing an Internship Program

Interns bring a lot to an organization. They can be developed into a talented pool for future hiring, add capacity to your staff and provide mentoring opportunities for new managers. If you’re hiring interns on a regular basis, it may be time to think about putting together a more formal internship program.

Internship programs come in a lot of different forms and will depend on the size, needs, and resources of your organization. We examine a few key components of strong internship programs as well as some options for you to consider.

Identify Internship Level and Develop Relationships with Schools

It’s important to determine what kind of experience your organization is looking for from interns. Often interns are students but sometimes they are career switchers or returning to the workforce after taking time off. Consider what experience you are able to offer your intern as you evaluate their level of experience. For example, an internship that involves administrative work and some reception support could be well suited for a high school intern looking to gain office experience and develop their professional communication skills. Whereas an internship assisting with research would be more appropriate for a graduate school intern interested in field experience for their studies.

As you make these assessments, reach out and build relationships with schools or other places where strong internship candidates might come from. Many community colleges and universities have career centers that are eager to make connections with organizations interested in hosting interns during the school year and summer.

Appoint an Intern Program Manager

Interns typically have project managers that supervise their work on specific projects but in order for operations like hiring, onboarding and performance review to run smoothly, it’s important to have an intern program manager. Often this is someone in the Human Resources Department. It could also be a great role for a member of your staff looking to gain more experience in managing a team. Having an intern program manager helps ensure consistency for interns, cuts down on duplicative work for individual project managers and provides a point person for all things related to interns at your organization.

Provide Structured Support to Individual Intern Managers

Supervising an intern is frequently a responsibility given to a new or junior staff person to help them gain management experience. Since interns often have a longer learning curve due to less professional experience this can be a tall order for new managers. Given this, it’s important to provide managers with regular opportunities to check-in as well as strategies for them to try if their intern isn’t meeting performance expectations. It may also be helpful for the intern program manager or human resources team to convene regular meetings for internship managers to meet and share takeaways and learnings with each other.

Create Clear Onboarding Plans for Your Interns

Good internships hinge on the first few weeks on the job and specifically the onboarding experience. Onboarding refers to the process of familiarizing and integrating new employees into your organization. For interns, onboarding is especially important because the experience can be one of their first in a professional environment and can shape their habits and career ambitions for years to come. For organizations, a strong onboarding plan can help interns learn quickly and contribute to their internship fully. You can learn more about some best practices for onboarding interns in our article, Good Internships Begin With Good Onboarding.

Schedule Regular Events and Programming for Interns

While you want the projects that interns work on to be concise, specific and attainable, an intern’s overall experience should provide exposure and an introduction to the many facets of your organization. Consider setting up a series of brown bag lunches where different members of your team speak about their work and their careers. Or a new hire panel featuring members of your organization hired after graduating college in the last three to five years. Interns may be particularly able to relate to your younger staff members and see themselves in similar positions in a few years. Additionally, it can be helpful to have panels featuring senior management to speak to the direction of your organization and offer insights on the field.

Offering in-house training can also be helpful programming for your interns. You might consider a workshop on advanced Excel skills, or tips for writing a professional email, or other development areas you notice for your interns. These trainings may be lead by the intern program manager or individual managers and offer tangible way to show interns your investment in their development and provide them with the skills they need to be successful in your internship.

Conduct Exit Interview and Provide Offboarding

Offboarding refers to the process of leaving an organization and wrapping up work as employment ends. It’s an important exercise for any staff member but particularly useful to interns since their employment is often short-term. Typically, interns are just starting in their careers or are new to the field, so engaging in an offboarding conversation can further inform their next steps and help them get the most from their experience. It can also be a helpful practice to reflect on your own management and internship programming long-term. Take a look at our article, Good Internships End With Good Offboarding to learn more about some best practices.

End with an Opportunity to Share Projects

Providing an opportunity for interns to showcase the work they completed can be a rewarding experience for the intern, their manager and the organization overall. It might be as simple as setting aside some time at a staff meeting or scheduling a special meeting for interns to present a short power point or poster with a summary of the projects they contributed to for fellow interns and staff. Coupling this with an intern appreciation lunch at the end of the season can also be a nice way to say thank you to your interns for all of their work.

We hope these suggestions spark ideas as you plan for your next intern or begin investing in the development of an internship program. If your organization already has an internship program, what’s worked well or not worked out at all? Email us at idealistorgs@idealist.org to let us know and share your suggestions!

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