Maricopa Community Colleges Blog

Advice For Establishing An Internship Program

Female mentor and female intern

What is one piece of advice for establishing an internship program?

To help you establish an internship program, we asked business leaders and experienced managers this question for their best tips. From setting expectations to celebrating diversity, there are several pieces of advice that may help you establish a successful internship program at your organization.

Here are 13 pieces of advice for establishing an internship program:

  • Set Expectations
  • Determine the Wants From Both Parties
  • Using Internships as a Recruitment Tool
  • Designate an Internship Mentor
  • Develop Work Plans for Each Position
  • Establish Relationships With Key Faculty
  • Locate Interns Through Education Career Services
  • Plan Out Responsibilities to Avoid Downtime
  • Look at Interns as Possible Potential Employees
  • Implement Rotating Internship Programs
  • Set Aside and Allocate Resources
  • Open Internships to People at All Stages of their Career
  • Celebrate Diversity Through Your Internship Program

Set Expectations

One piece of advice I would give to those starting an internship program is to focus on setting expectations. When building a program, it is critical to be direct with your leaders, stakeholders, intern leads, and interns. The more information that you can provide in a clear and concise way will ensure the success of each intern.

In an effort to provide that clarity, put yourself in each persona’s shoes. What would you want to know? What checklists, calendar invites or prep sessions are needed to set guidelines and expectations across the board? While the program is running, it is imperative to connect with your interns daily and internal stakeholders weekly to gauge their progress and identify obstacles that need to be addressed. Leaders also are appreciative of updates and data-driven information throughout the program.

- Samantha Kozub, University & Intern Lead at Gemini

Determine the Wants From Both Parties

With the changes and challenges in the workforce during the last few years, now is a great opportunity to rewrite your internship program from scratch. For our nonprofit organization, the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce in Arizona, that meant going back to the whiteboard and map out: What do interns want from us, and what do we want from our interns.

The process we eventually created does two things: One, it polls our network to identify topics and issues that are highly relevant for our stakeholders and members. Two, it helps us find and identify potential interns that have personal interest in those same topics and issues.

Together with the interns we choose the top issues that would benefit our members and network the most to solve, and let the interns loose to research, analyze and create new knowledge that will benefit us, our members, and other stakeholders.

- Joacim Mattisson, President of SACC Arizona

Using Internships as a Recruitment Tool

When you are considering an Internship Program, consider this design using a recruitment lens. Project-based Internships are helpful for the students as this is a deliverable they can claim from the Internship. As an employer, you can garner such insight into the student as a potential permanent employee based on this deliverable and their results.

Consider carefully the managers who will oversee the Intern as this will be a critical relationship for the student. This manager becomes the face of the company for the Intern, and an important relationship in the recruitment.

Keep up with your Interns after the project. If possible, offer them extensions of their Internship. If you have a planned spot for them post-graduation, let them know of your interest as they will soon be in job-search mode. Continue recruiting them to join your team. Finally, I must remind some, Interns should always be paid!

- Diane Fennig, Senior Consultant at The Gallagher Group - Executive Search & Leadership Advisors

Designate an Internship Mentor

As a student enters an internship they are looking to learn and grow, in order to do so, they need consistent feedback and mentoring. As a company looks to create a long-lasting mutually beneficial internship program they need to establish who will take on the responsibility of the intern. The internship mentor should be a professional with expertise in their field of study or discipline.

While many companies believe that an intern is more comfortable with a mentor more closely related in age or experience, we have seen that those that get to interact with seasoned professionals on a regular basis as their designated mentor feel they learn far more than they ever expected. This also serves as a great way for the student to learn networking skills and professional communication.

- Megan Blanco, Internship Coordinator, Career Coach, Adjunct Faculty at University of Central Florida

Develop Work Plans for Each Position

In professional internships, employers should develop position-specific Work Plans that include:

  • Expected start/end times daily or expected # of daily hours for flexible
  • Specific check-in schedule
  • Planned events/meetings (e.g. team/department meetings, scheduled team-building or social events, webinars, intern presentations)
  • Required software/hardware (e.g. team/department meetings, scheduled team-building or social events, webinars, intern presentations)
  • Productivity tools (e.g. face-to-face, communication, project management, file sharing)
  • Projects/assignments including: detailed descriptions, resources needed, due dates

- Robin Neff Clebnik, CEO and Founder of InternWorks

Establish Relationships With Key Faculty

From a Higher Education perspective, you will want to connect with key faculty from the discipline(s) from which you may want to offer internships. When connecting with faculty, it is a good practice to explore the possibility of building internships into the curriculum for credit, as offering internships for credit will likely encourage more students to complete the experience and, hence, become more "career ready" by graduation.

While not always an easy process, identifying key faculty who are willing to serve as Career Champions is essential for a strong internship program. Since career readiness conversations occur outside of formalized Career Services offices and often occur with faculty, discussing ways in which an internship partnership may make faculty's jobs easier is a great way to build relationships with faculty.

- Jennifer Rhodes, Career Advisor, Senior at Career Services Professional

Locate Interns Through Education Career Services

There are a number of avenues to take when seeking interns. You may choose to advertise as you would for any position within your organization via popular job boards. Contacting Career Services at local community colleges, trade schools and universities is also an option.

The Career Services had direct access to the contact information for students that may be interested and they can advertise for you on campus. Also, you may work with high school counselors to identify students with the potential to meet the internship requirements. Either of these options will give students real world experience and help them to make career decisions. It may create an opportunity for your organization to identify and mold a potential future employee.

- Kentia McLemore, Career Coach & Resume Writer at Targeted Fit

Plan Out Responsibilities to Avoid Downtime

One problem many interns have when interning at an organization, is that they find a lot of downtime, or time not being used to work. Many companies do not properly plan out responsibilities that an intern can work on during the workday. This is at the detriment of your company because the intern cannot help you knock off tasks that you do day to day, and also at the detriment of the intern because they are not gaining quality working experience. Try to map out tasks that will properly fill out the hours they work during the week to avoid these kinds of issues.

- Brandon Brown, CEO of GRIN

Look at Interns as Possible Potential Employees

When companies set up intern programs, you may not always want to look at them as a temporary solution to help you wrap up some additional tasks over the summer. In fact, many interns go on to become integral parts of the team - especially after they show off their skills on big projects. Having interns also presents an optimal situation for devising a training and learning process, which can be used by your HR team for onboarding.

- Ryan Rottman, Co-Founder and CEO of OSDB Sports

Implement Rotating Internship Programs

This is the best piece of advice I can give for starting an internship program. Rotating internship programs are essential, and I cannot emphasize this enough. As an intern, it's important to have a broad view of the business rather than focusing on a certain function or area. Exceptional interns are frequently hired for full-time positions, and a rotating program that allows them to observe how the various departments work together and in harmony helps to minimize conflict when they are hired full-time.

- Sumit Bansal, CEO of TrumpExcel

Set Aside and Allocate Resources

Assess your company’s needs and resources. You want to create a program that offers meaningful work and development for the interns. Determine what projects interns can take charge of that will support your company and allocate the right mentors and networking opportunities for your interns to capitalize on their experience. Before designing an internship program, you have to establish what your company needs and what it can afford to offer.

- Ankur Goyal, Head of Growth of Coterie

Open Internships to People at All Stages of their Career

It's the best advice I can give you on how to start a program for internships to be open to people at all stages of their career. Internships should be available to people at any stage in their career. Forget about looking for college students and recent grads, and consider people with extensive industry experience who may be in need of a job or looking to gain new skills that could help them shift their career path. There's a lot of potential value for both parties in that arrangement.

- Tanner Arnold, President & CEO of Revelation Machinery

Celebrate Diversity Through Your Internship Program

Make diversity one of your internship program priorities. Numerous studies show that a diverse and culturally robust workplace can greatly strengthen a business. The same applies to establishing an internship program.

To access potential interns, step out of your network. Make relationships with career development professionals at high schools – it may enhance your chances of gaining a more diverse candidate pool.

- Agata Szczepanek, Community Manager of Resume Now

Learn more about how Maricopa Corporate College can support HR professionals in administering career training and professional development programs.

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