With many students scrambling to get extra work experience through internships, it may be possible that one or two of them have come across your office asking if there are any internships available. Maybe you had to turn them down because you did not have an internship program and then decided you might want one, or maybe you are looking for extra help and feel that an intern would be a better fit for the job than a full-time employee. Regardless, now you are left with the dilemma of starting an internship program from the ground up.

The question is how does one go about creating an internship program?

1. Educate Yourself

The first step is to educate yourself.

Start with the basics: understand the laws both the state and the federal government have for internships. These laws are very clear on guidelines you must follow when it comes to hiring paid or unpaid interns. Many small businesses unknowingly break federal law when employing unpaid interns. In order to work with unpaid interns, there are six standards (according to the Internships Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, April 2010) which must be followed to qualify:

  • The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.
  • The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.
  • The intern does not displace regular employees but works under close supervision of existing staff.
  • The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern, and on occasion, its operations may be impeded.
  • The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.
  • The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

State laws vary on what the employers must do when it comes to filing workers compensation and other financial benefits if working as a paid intern.

After you have settled on what type of an intern you will employ, become familiar with local universities. Typically, it is a good idea to have one contact per university. The point of contact will be able to relay your opportunities to potential interns as well as inform you of upcoming career days. Lastly, become familiar with online boards to post your opportunity. Websites such as Indeed and CareerBuilder are resources that interns and employers use to look for and fill positions.

This is by far the most intensive step.

2. Plan

Next, develop the company portion of the plan. Before interns can be hired to work, there must be work for an intern to do. Develop a plan to explain how the company works, daily tasks, expectations, office etiquette and an employee handbook.

Provide an intern coordinator; this could be a specific employee for each intern or one employee to cover all the interns. The intern coordinator will be the point of contact for the interns and it must be somebody that is willing to be patient as well as answer any questions the interns may have.

Afterward, develop a plan for the project(s) the interns will work on. This will be something to get their feet wet and give them a taste of the type of work the company does. The intern will thus have an opportunity to build a portfolio, gain experience, and ask questions.

3. Set expectations

Make sure the company has the basic questions answered clearly to all interns before the intern accepts the position. Interns need to be aware of what is expected of them: hours, tasks, start and end dates as well as being informed on the payment situation- if the internship is paid or not.

Many students do internships for college credit, be prepared to give the intern the information needed to ensure that the student can fulfill the requirements needed for credit. For example, in some cases, students need to work 60 hours or more for one college credit and will need you to sign off on their hours at the end of the internship.

4. Interview process

Before viewing resumes and conducting interviews make a list of the top things the company is looking for and how many interns the company can accept. This will help narrow down the applicants. Evaluate resumes and conduct interviews.

Remember, although the company is interviewing and evaluating the applicants, the applicants are also evaluating the company. The applicants may have great skills and be a top pick for the internship program, but if the applicants did not have an enjoyable interview process, an offer might be declined. A relaxed interview to get to know their personal qualities and keeping the conversation open is ideal. Allow the interviewee to ask questions about the company and the type of work they will potentially be doing.

After the conducting the interview, it is time to extend offers. Extend the offers with a clearly defined deadline to accept the offer. Many students will try to wait until the last minute to make a decision. Make the deadline upfront so there are no surprises and so that if the applicant declines there enough time to extend another offer and fill the position.

5. Execute

Now that the company has done the research, planned, established expectations and hired the interns, it is time to execute the plan. All employees should be aware of the intern’s arrival and prepped on being hospitable and welcoming.

Interns are going to be nervous, but it is important that they feel comfortable. Not only can they be potential employees but also at the end of the internship they will go back to their college campus and let peers know about the experience they had with the company. An intern’s first day will be overwhelming, but it can be less overwhelming if it is structured. A good idea is to have a welcoming luncheon to give the interns a chance to meet staff and show a sense of community within the company.

The first couple days should be spent explaining things to the interns. Explaining everything from “this is where the restrooms are,” to “our database works like this.” The more you answer questions at the start, the less time will be spent on figuring them out later.

In the end, an internship program can be a great asset for your company as well as a great tool for college students. Feel free to share tips or asks questions about internship programs in the comments.



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