A good internship program will let students work on projects where they can pick up new competencies and complete meaningful projects, said Nathan Parcells, chief marketing officer at InternMatch in San Francisco. Companies actively promoting these types of programs will attract higher-quality interns who may decide to work there after they graduate.
“We recommend for every role that companies make sure there is some programmatic training for the student,” Parcells said. “It doesn’t need to be weeks and weeks of training, but they should teach them some valuable professional skills that they can’t learn in school. For example, for social media internships, companies can train students on how to use social media management software such as HootSuite or TweetDeck.”
Employers should also set goals for interns to achieve during their stay, he said. For example, social media interns at InternMatch need to complete two blog posts a week, or a design intern at the service firm might need to create 10 white papers over the course of an internship.
“We also recommend that companies pay their interns, as they will get a much higher-quality and engaged intern,” Parcells said. “For most for-profit companies, that’s the law, but nonprofit companies should also pay their interns.”
A well-structured internship program also benefits the three main actors involved — the institution of higher learning, the employer and the student, said Robert Shindell, vice president and chief learning officer for Intern Bridge Inc., a consultancy in Austin, Texas.
A successful intern experience starts with actual work, Shindell said. “The quicker a company engages interns, giving them meaningful work, and helps them to see a path where they could go in the company, the better chances a company has to retain them,” he said.
Some companies don’t want to hire their interns; they just have some project work that needs to be done. But for those that want to hire interns and keep them for up to three years after they graduate, structuring an internship program based on students’ expectations and experiences as it relates to internship programs, general college recruiting practices and workforce development can help.
Intern Bridge has research from more than 500,000 students who have completed internships. The firm’s research partners have included the National Association of Colleges and Employers Foundation, the Eastern Association of Colleges and Employers, and the Northeast Human Resources Association.
Through that research, Intern Bridge developed its Total Internship Management approach to internship program creation and administration. This strategy increases the chances that both employers and students will benefit from an internship by considering critical factors related to internship programming, including understanding Gen Yers, structuring a program, choosing the best supervisor, marketing the opportunity, orientation, compensation, benefits and evaluation.
“The worse thing that employers can do is not develop a program ahead of time,” Shindell said. “Last May I got a call from an employer one week before their interns were scheduled to come, who asked me what they should do with them. That was too late. Before they even hire interns, employers need to identify their goals and objectives, including why are they even hiring interns.”
Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a California-based journalist. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.