6 Keys to a Kick-A$$ Internship Program

In order to build your employment brand with the current generation, you have an internship program.  You bring college students into your company for several weeks in the summer to give them exposure to your workplace.  You want them to go back to campus and talk about how your company is the best place to work.

Well, just having an intern program is not enough to build a stellar brand with college students who have the skills and abilities that you want.  You need a plan for the program that will leave them thrilled with their experience.  You want a kick-a$$ internship program.  Here’s how to get one:

  1. Have hiring standards. Your internship program should not be summer jobs for your executives’ kids (unless, of course, said kids are qualified).  Have some requirements – major, GPA, leadership experience, something – to be an intern at your company.  Students want to feel that they are among others who were ‘selected for,’ not ‘given’ an internship.
  2. Give them real work to do. Yes, everyone’s job at some point involves mundane tasks like photocopying, but your interns shouldn’t be doing those tasks any more often than the average employee.  Given them real assignments and responsibilities on projects that are exactly what you would expect an entry-level hire to take on.  They want to contribute to the company and use the skills and abilities they have developed in college.
  3. Give them access to executives or other people in “cool” positions. Nothing energizes interns more than a group lunch with the CEO or a Q&A session with the lead engineer who developed your hot product.  The best internship programs have regular meetings between executives and the interns. These interactions make the interns feel important to the company and allow the executives to see future talent in action.
  4. Assign them a buddy. Give each intern a full-time employee as a buddy.  They can use this person to help them navigate the org chart, the building and the basic questions – things they wouldn’t want to ask their boss.  Use former interns and junior staffers as your pool of buddies.  They typically love being involved and you can assess their mentoring skills in the process.
  5. Provide opportunities to connect with the other interns. Organize occasional informal lunches for the interns to meet each other.  Create local volunteer opportunities for them to join.  Encourage them to share their work and assignments with each other.  Even if you don’t have many interns in the same location, find ways for them to connect via a company tool like Slack or just a Facebook group.  Interns who form friendships often encourage each other to return to the company full-time.
  6. Give them regular feedback. Do not wait until the end of the internship to tell them how they did.  Most interns are only with a company for about 10 weeks.  They should get feedback about their performance regularly.  You can accomplish this through weekly meetings with their supervisors or project managers.  You can also, more effectively, coach intern managers to provide feedback on the spot as an intern accomplishes something or misses the mark on something else.

If you incorporate these 6 things into your internship program, your interns will return to campus (and social media) with extremely positive things to say about their experience and your company.  And ultimately you will have your next set of entry-level hires.