Internship programs are a valuable asset to every organization, offering benefits to both the interns and employers. For students and recent graduates, they are a great way to gain real-world knowledge and experience; for employers (and their managers!), it’s a chance to establish relationships with talented individuals, develop their skills, and get a boost to their productivity.
Research conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that the number of college graduates pursuing internships is on the rise – due, at least in part, to spreading awareness of how much employers favor candidates who already have relevant experience (75 percent of employers, to be exact). Furthermore, more than half of hiring managers prefer if the candidate got the experience through an internship.
This summer I had an intern as a direct report for the first time. While it was my personal goal to ensure she learned as much as possible – while having a bit of fun, any organization taking on interns has a responsibility to ensure they have the best possible experience. A significant part of that is making sure you’re setting them up for success.
Here are some ways to do just that:
Although your interns may be temporary, they should be treated with the same type of respect as an employee who is with you for the long haul. As the new kids in town – so to speak – it’s important for interns to feel included and welcomed by existing staff. This means giving them meaningful work (rather than having them fetch coffee) and supplying them with the appropriate resources. On a social level, interns should also be invited to after-work events and activities.
Internship programs tend to run a lot more smoothly when there is a sound structure in place. Ensuring that their experience with your company is beneficial and stays on track as time progresses requires regular communication. By scheduling one-on-one meetings, you get to learn more about them, gain a better understanding of what’s working and what’s not, and demonstrates that you value their presence. They also allow you to gain a better understanding of what it is they are looking to get out of the internship. Plus, these meetings are something they will likely have to engage in when they are employed full-time, so giving them some practice now is helpful.
An internship is, at its core, a learning opportunity. It’s crucial for employers to be open to, and even encourage, the intern to ask as many questions as they need. While giving them praise and recognition when it’s earned can provide them with a confidence boost, it’s also important to remember that part of developing them as professionals includes giving them constructive feedback as well. To enhance your ability to set your intern up for success, make sure both you and your intern are clear on what is expected of them. This way, it will be easier to assess and manage their performance.
Internship programs are, in a way, a transition period – a bridge that helps students become professionals and effectively evolve from the classroom to the office. As most business people already know, an essential aspect of succeeding in the real world is leveraging a strong network. Help your interns build out their network throughout the program, connecting them with the contacts – both in and outside your organization – that will likely to be of value to them.
Although not always the case, often times employers find themselves wanting to hire interns once the program is complete. If so, there are a number of ways you can do this to guarantee that it is a seamless and successful transition, which I’ll cover in part two of this series.