Three Tips to Launch Your First Internship Program

Author: Heather Neisen, HR Manager, TechnologyAdvice

First things first – every company is different. There is no catch-all internship program and structure that companies can “copy-paste.” But, there are a lot of lessons TechnologyAdvice has learned that we can share with fellow companies looking to launch their own internship program.

Our company actually had several failed attempts at an internship program the past few years. Naturally, there were concerns from managers who shared stressful stories of those previous failed internship programs and the interns who worked in them. We listened to these stories to learn from past experiences, and it became clear that planning the program would require buy-in from every person involved. We decided we wanted eight to ten interns (a large program for a 35-40 person company at the time), and to have a successful program this time around we had to pour the right foundation and get organized.

The first step is to recognize the need to collaborate
It is tempting to make one person the internship coordinator, but we resisted this idea and delegated tasks to multiple individuals. HR was responsible for posting, recruiting, interviewing, and all the administrative functions around orientation and communication. We also had the director of marketing cast his vision, our content manager help develop the message for the job posting, and leaders in each of our core areas manage interns during the summer months. Through brainstorming, we realized we needed to create an internship that was interesting enough that we, as young adults, would want to have. To us, that meant a paid, 12-week program that opened with a four-week rotation through four different parts of the business. Interns were then asked to select the one area they wanted to focus on for the remaining eight weeks.

Tip: This decision really depends on your team. The potential pitfall of collaboration is spending unnecessary amounts of time in planning the internship. In this case, it may be wise to pick a few key team members to put together the plan instead of having a large group where too many hands are involved.

Once logistics are squared away, it’s time to get connected
One of the best partnerships that we created was with Ben McIntyre, founder and CEO of Internpreneur. It was wonderful to talk with a college student who had a passion for creating valuable internship experiences for both students and employers. Internpreneur was easy to work with and offered great insight about what students are looking for – everything from thinking about evaluations to tweaking our job posting. We felt great about our program and started interviewing excellent candidates through the Internpreneur program. Additionally, we reached out to trusted partners in the community, as well as university and college contacts in the Southeast to let them know about our unique program as well as build relationships. The wonderful part about a well-structured, intentional internship was the excitement our partners had for it, too! We started receiving referrals for star students and our interviewing process was in full-gear.

Tip: Maybe the internship program is focused on high schoolers or for non-traditional students or young adults. Who you connect with is up to you – maybe that won’t be colleges and universities, but there are always focus partners you can connect with to get the word out. Maybe it’s a local club or organization. Maybe it’s a non-profit. Whatever you’re looking for, there are people who can help connect you to the right interns.

Finally, make it challenging!
It’s often tempting to make an internship too easy. Maybe it’s the fear of not wanting to push interns too hard, but it’s important to realize that pushing interns out of their comfort zone will increase both their value to your company and their professional development. It is critical to find interns with that mentality and attitude, and once you do, magic can happen! In our internship, we started by paying our interns well. We expected them to work full days and put their all into their work. We also asked our interns to do things we expected of our full-time professionals. These tasks pushed their boundaries in a variety of ways, whether it be measuring analytics they never considered relevant, or picking up the phone to conduct interviews and gather data for industry research content. Nothing made me prouder than at the four-week mark when our interns gave their presentations about what they had learned so far. Every intern talked about being stretched in new ways and how they initially had fears or worries over tasks, but how proud they were of themselves for overcoming those hurdles.

Tip: Make it work for you. If you do not need a full-time intern or if you do not have the manpower to have multiple people in your organization manage interns — get creative.  There are many ways to challenge interns by assigning them special projects, or even taking an inventory of your interns strengths and weaknesses to focus on developing both throughout the course of the program.

Overall, you will create a successful internship taking the time to design a program that fits your company. Remember to be intentional, get connected, and create an experience that will add value to both your company and the interns’ professional journey.

Heather Neisen is the Human Resources Manager at TechnologyAdvice in Brentwood, TN, which connects buyers and sellers of business technology. They developed an internship program for eight students to help rapidly grow their team and haven’t stopped since. They’ll run another program this summer and are offering a $1000 STEM Scholarship to students in Tennessee.