How To Create an Internship


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OK, so it’s summer – and you might be thinking about an internship program.  Actually, since it’s the middle of summer, you might be thinking “why didn’t I create an internship program already”.

Well, never fear – internships aren’t just for the summer months.  You can have interns all year round – in fact, I recommend it.

The first thing to remember is an intern isn’t just a means to get extra hands to do the work.  A real internship should be a valuable learning experience for the intern; and if’ you’re lucky, and it’s a paid internship – you can also get some extra hands to help with the work!

But make no mistake, to get a successful experience out of this for everyone – you’re going to need to give it a little thought vs. just waiving your magic wand and saying – boom, now you’re an intern.

So first off, decide if you’re going to pay the intern or not.  Now, I strongly recommend that you have a paid internship.  Sure you can have an unpaid internship, but there are a lot of hoops to jump through.

Unpaid internships should be paired with some sort of educational institution, and the intern should receive academic credit for their work.  And it can’t just be some hap hazard affair either.  The department of labor has very strict guidelines around when, and if, an intern has to be paid.  I’ll put a link in the show notes to the test that the DOL’s uses to figure out if they want to ding you for having an unpaid intern or not.  Be sure to grab your free copy.

So, for the sake of this podcast, let’s assume you’ve decided to pay your intern.  On the plus side, you can probably stick with minimum wage, so the cost to you can be much less than hiring a temp.

But back to the value add piece.  Remember, an intern can bring you all sorts of fresh perspectives – and not to use an old stereotype – but they’ll probably also bring along some thoughts around new tech or apps that may be useful to your business.  I mean, let’s be honest – your intern is probably spending a lot more time on social media than you are….so they’re probably more connected to what’s happening online, from a marketing perspective.  And whether they’re on the marketing team or not – or even if you have a marketing team or not – they may still bring forward great suggestions, based on what they’re seeing every day.

.. if it isn’t measured it isn’t managed.

Now, on your side of things – you’ll get extra help.  Yes, they may be a bit inexperienced, and may need a bit of business polishing, but they will be eager, and happy to help wherever they’re needed.  So be sure to use that.  Don’t just plop your intern down in a corner and have them doing the same thing all day long, throughout the internship.  Give them a variety of experiences, and in tern you’ll get help in a variety of ways.

OK – enough about the value; let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of putting a program together.

First, put someone in charge of the program.  It’s a real mistake to think you’ll just run things yourself, and that will be good enough.  For a program to have real value, it needs real attention .  You’re going to need a Program Coordinator.  And no, it doesn’t have to be a stand alone position.  You can assign it as a project to one of your team members – besides, it’ll give them a chance to expand what they’re doing too.

Then, work with the program coordinator to help get them going.  Discuss what you envision getting out of an internship program, the types of skills you would like to see, maybe even the schools you want to recruit from.  What are the goals of having an internship program.

What do you want the program to look like, how long will it be (and yes, internships should have a start and end date – remember, they aren’t regular jobs, they’re internships).  Are you planning on using the interns as a source for future hires (by the way, if you do, don’t’ forget to think about what that transition and training path should look like).

Will you have an ongoing program – so bring in interns one after the other – or do you want this to be a one off.

Don't get caught with an illegal unpaid internship.

Next, figure out what you want them to do or work on – and most importantly, who they will work with.  The best internship programs involve most or all of the company.  Different people, different jobs, different training styles – all that makes for a really rich experience for the intern.  And, if you’re planning on possibly recruiting from the interns, it gives you a chance to see where they work best, what they’re good at, and what they’re most interested in.

Once the Program Coordinator has that sorted, they can get down to formalizing the program design.  They should lay out a formal onboarding process – and yes, interns should be onboarded like you do new hires, and then have an additional piece that specifically is the onboarding to the internship program.  You’ll have to lay out the areas they’ll work in, with whom and for how long.  Create a training process and figure out how and how often you’re going to measure progress.  Remember – if it isn’t measured it isn’t managed.

Which brings me to another really important point.  Make sure it’s clear that the Program Coordinator manages all the interns.  They may work here and there for various people – and those people will certainly give their feedback on skills and performance; but the Program Coordinator has the baton for managing the interns.  Otherwise it gets way too complicated with who reports to whom, and who expects what.  One manager, one authority – all roads lead to the Program Coordinator

Now, just because you’ve successfully delegated the program to the Program Coordinator, does not mean you can hide in your office and never have anything to do with the intern.  Nope, you are the top of the pyramid – it’s vital they hear from you, and connect with the vision of the company.  In fact, the best case scenario if you’re having more than one intern at a time, is to put one in the CEO’s office.  What?  That’s a valuable learning experience.  And it shows the team you’re game for having an intern yourself – even though it may take a bit of time and attention.  You know – buy in from the top goes a long way.

And for goodness sake – don’t forget to have fun!   Have a catered lunch, or have some other relationship building event that’ll give the interns a chance to get to know your team, and vice versa.

And finally, at the end of the internship, solicit feedback from the interns.  They can give you a view of the program you can’t get any other way.  And the more they help you improve your internship, the better quality interns you’ll attract.

Heck, they might even refer their friends.


Grab your copy of the: Department of Labor Internship Test

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