5 Tips for Getting the Most out of Your Internship Program

School’s out for summer and if you have a summer intern program your interns have probably been in place for a few weeks now. The dust has settled, they have been on-boarded and they are ready to get to work. Here are a few tips for you and your managers to help get the most of our your interns.

1. Understand the Investment That You’re Making when You Have an Intern Program

Internship programs don’t run themselves. Sometimes, when I talk to people about setting up their intern program, I have to remind them, “Interns are work — you get what you give.” Sure you’ve sourced and hired the best and brightest — but you have to give them direction, frequent feedback about what they are working on, and help coach them on things that you may take for granted that an more experienced worker may do (office skills and professional conduct). In other words, your interns don’t know, what they don’t know — and you have to have someone who is dedicated to working with and developing them. I suggest choosing someone who is passionate about mentoring and developing people and if it’s not part of their “day job” then give them a little bit of room in their schedule to make the investment and do the program justice. Even the best and most talented intern can get lost without guidance, feedback, and help navigating the workplace and assignments. Internships are in investment in the future; don’t short change it by not fully supporting the program with the right resources (people and money) to have an amazing and successful internship experience.

2. Tie Everything that they do to a “Learning Objective”

The worst thing that you can do in your intern program is to stick your intern in the corner and ask them to do a bunch of menial tasks. While helpful to your business, it’s probably not all that interesting for your student. Sure we ALL have tasks that we don’t “enjoy” about our job but that have to get done. But unlike interns, you understand WHY those things need to get done, how they provide value  back to the business, and how they fit into the larger picture. Make sure that your interns do too! I suggest tying EVERYTHING back to a learning objective. At the beginning of the internship, you and your intern(s) should discuss what these may be or you might provide some that are important to your program. For a 3 – 6 month internship, I suggest between 3 – 5 objectives. Try to tie everything that they are working on to one of those objectives and ensure that they know WHY that task is important. The smaller part of the whole may seem insignificant by itself, but presented with the larger picture they understand why and how their piece fits in.

Also, don’t be afraid to give your interns something to “own” during their internship that ties back to one of their learning objectives.You decide what is an appropriate project — but it’s great for them to learn something end to end and to have some ownership of a project or program. It makes the internship experience more meaningful to have something that they can say they are responsible for.

3. Check the Pulse Frequently

Include your interns in the regular course of activities and have regular one-on-ones with them to see how they are doing. If you want to make this formal consider doing a weekly intern check up, via email, of what they are working on, their progress, and what help they need from you. However, some of my favorite ways to check in with my interns include quick texts, updates or messages over social media, or just a drive-by chat. Last year, when I was pregnant, my interns and I would walk a lap around the building with me or have a cookie break. It was fun and informal, but a great way to connect and get a feel for how they were doing. Find what works for your program — keep it simple and make it easy!

4. Ask for a Report Out at the End of the Internship

So often we tell interns what they will or have learned. I suggest turning that on its head and asking your interns to do a report on what they feel that they learned and what they found to be valuable. It’s not only a way to get feedback on your internship program, but it’s a great activity for your interns to get experience with public speaking and organizing their thoughts for a presentation if you set it up so that they present their learnings to an audience such as the entire department or other interns in the program.

5. Don’t Forget the Fun

This goes without saying right? Right?!?! I’m a big believer in making the workplace a fun and engaging place — so understand what that means to your intern program, so you have the right amount of work and play. Figure out what works for your culture and program and run with it.

Interns go back to their schools and talk. You want them to tell others how awesome your internship was and how much they learned, because you’re not just mentoring, you’re also creating a pipeline of new talent — so put in the work to make it awesome!

Tips for Getting the Most out of Your Internship Program

What are some of your tips for hosting a great intern program?

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Andrea Devers

Andrea is an HR technologist and change management expert. She’s has built her career in global HR Compliance, HR process improvement, and shared services across all functions of HR. Connect with Andrea.


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