Companies hire interns for a variety of reasons—they have a project they need to get done, it helps an employee’s child gain experience, or it is good for the community. More recently, companies have also begun hiring interns to build the talent pipeline. Students are hired to learn about the organization, processes, and gain work experience along the way. Employers gain insight to how the intern works, the skills the individual brings to the workplace, as well as work ethic—like a long interview.
At the same time, interns are interviewing the employer. They get a feel for your organization’s values and the growth opportunities at your company. Managers are key to the experience, so it is important that the manager play an active role. It is important to think about what you want your interns to say around the dinner table with family and to friends at school when asked, “How is your internship going?”
Employment brand matters and here are a few ideas that can help create a successful internship experience for both you and your intern.
- Do not ghost them. Just like you do not like being ghosted by candidates, interns do not like to be ghosted either. Let them know where they are in the interview process.
- Assign one big project. Have the intern work on one big project throughout the summer that can make an impact for the company, and that can be included on an intern’s resume.
- Involve the intern in small projects. Interns don’t want to be bored. Some tasks do not take as long as planned, so be prepared with small projects that are not time sensitive that can be worked on during “down time.”
- Provide professional development opportunities. Opportunities to learn about the organization, learn business and soft skills, and grow as a professional are top priorities (according to a survey from MRA’s Intern Leadership Program).
- Encourage networking, meeting, and getting to know other leaders in the organization, as well as other interns.
- Assign a mentor to help with development and a buddy to engrain them into the culture. To provide further engagement, consider making the intern a reverse mentor for a staff member. This can offer a different perspective and learning opportunity to seasoned professionals as well.
- Share your cell phone number. An intern will not call you and invite you to a party, but might want to be able to contact you if he or she gets a flat tire.
- Provide feedback so interns know the areas they have excelled in and where they could improve. Schedule regular one-on-one meetings with your interns and use this time to provide overall feedback, ask about other projects they want to work on, and ask about other areas of interest in the company. Talk about career goals and aspirations and encourage them to be their best selves at work, now and in the future.
- Build a rotational internship program allowing students to spend a few weeks in each department. This helps students get a full picture of the business and learn what they like and do not like. There is a lot of planning and time dedicated up front with programs like this, but companies have found top talent and have seen high retention rates.
Interns also want to provide valuable contributions to the organization. Consider involving them in projects such as:
- Evaluating standard operating procedures (SOPs). Have the intern walk through your processes, ask questions, document the process, and make efficiency recommendations.
- Community involvement. Providing an opportunity for interns to become involved in community projects representing the company can make a great impact on both the community and an intern.
- Organization-wide initiatives. If there are company-wide initiatives, such as a DE&I employee resource group, or a wellness committee, you’ve wanted to implement but haven’t had the time, have an intern research what other companies are doing, best practices, and put a plan together for how to implement.
Not only can interns contribute to helping manage the current workload, they provide a fresh perspective and new ideas. Each experience is different and here are some noteworthy examples from companies involved in MRA’s Intern Leadership Program.
- One company helped their intern find housing for the summer.
- One company purposefully waited to recruit their interns until later in the spring because it found a more diverse talent pool after waiting.
- One company had interns form small teams, with interns they do not typically work with, to work with local nonprofits. The teams spent a few hours asking questions about the company’s business needs. The intern team built a business case and presented it to a to a panel of judges. The staff members of the nonprofit were invited to attend. The winning team presented a check to the nonprofit to support their need.
When talking with companies about their experiences with interns, the most common response includes how talented they are and how glad they were to have them be part of the team. If you are looking to enhance your current internship program, consider being part of MRA’s summer Intern Leadership Program, which provides professional development and networking opportunities for both the company and interns. The program can also save you the time of creating your own program.