Internship programs can be great and mutually beneficial for your business and for the interns you hire. It’s a great opportunity for your interns to learn about the industry and for you to get a little extra help with your day-to-day operations. You may even potentially be finding and training some future full-time employees. But to give your interns the best learning experience possible, you want to make sure you have a good internship program template in place that will provide a framework for your interns’ experience. Just like you want to hire the best employees, you also want to hire the best interns—and provide them with a positive and beneficial work environment so they can thrive.
You also want to make sure that by the time your interns have finished up their time with your business, they feel like they’ve learned new skills, grown professionally, and gained clarity about where they want their career to go in the future. To do that, you’ll want to develop an internship program at your organization to officially outline what your interns’ onboarding will include, what their responsibilities will be, who you want them to meet in your organization, what you want them to learn, and more.
We know, it’s a lot to think about. But the good news is once you develop your internship program template, you’ll be able to use it for interns now and in the future. Before you get to work, you should consider the amount of time you do or don’t have to spend with interns, the workload you have available for interns to do, who has the time to manage the interns and help them learn, and more. Now, once that’s settled, it’s time to start developing an internship program at your organization.
How to Create a Successful Internship Program Template
Before you get too worried about creating the perfect internship program template right away, remember: You can always improve and make changes to your internship program framework. As you work with more interns, you’ll soon learn what works well in your internship program template and what needs to be changed or removed altogether. To get started, though, there are some foundational aspects you should have in place before you hire your first interns. A study of the best summer internships found that interns favored those where they learned the most, so keep this in mind while you’re developing an internship program at your organization. You may want interns to make copies and fetch coffee, but if that’s the extent of their responsibilities, they will likely not be positive and hardworking additions to your team. Here are some tips to help you create a successful internship program template.
Assess Your Resources
Before developing an internship program at your organization and actually hiring interns, you first need to assess your resources. You should do this before every hiring cycle to be sure you have the structure in place to support taking on extra people. Because even though they’re interns, they will still require resources—both financial and otherwise—from your company. You should be sure you have someone with the time to manage the interns and that you have the money to pay them, as well. You should also decide how much you’ll pay them and if you’ll offer course credit before you start posting the internship position.
You’ll want to establish someone who will help run the internship program and will have time to dedicate to both the onboarding and continued guidance of your interns. This person should also help screen interns and be sure that the role is represented accurately in any job listings.
Schedule Consistent Check-ins
As someone with a busy schedule, you know how easily time can get away from you. That said, it’s important that whoever is managing your interns (whether you or someone else within your organization) sets aside time each week, or every other week, with each intern to check in with them and give them the attention and help that they need. Outlining these consistent check-ins in your internship program template will help ensure you and your interns have regular facetime. In fact, this doesn’t only apply to interns—it’s a good thing to have all managers do with their direct reports, as it helps create a good company culture.
These weekly or biweekly check-ins should give you a feel for how the interns are adjusting to their positions. It’s a good opportunity to ask them questions and welcome any they may have, as well as to set some expectations and review their assigned tasks. As a result of creating this line of communication, you should hope to have interns who value you as a supervisor and respect your opinions, as well as your time. If any problems arise, you want them to feel comfortable addressing you rather than having them go on disliking a portion of their intern experience.
Set Realistic, Achievable Goals
As with any goal, you want to make sure the goals you set in your internship program template are realistic and achievable. Interns tend to be around for a short period of time, maybe just a few months during the summer, or part-time during the school year. Due to this shortened timeframe, you and your intern both want to make sure that their goals and your goals align and that they can realistically be met during their internship.
Setting unrealistic goals for your interns can result in them feeling defeated, stressed, and that they don’t have enough time to learn. Those one-on-one meetings we mentioned above are a great time to discuss these goals and to adjust them during your interns’ time with your business. Different interns will work at different paces, so while it’s a good idea to create broad goals in your internship program template, they should be flexible depending on each specific intern and how quickly—or slowly—they take to your business.
As an intern becomes more comfortable in their role, they might also feel ready to take on more work, or learn a new skill. As we mentioned above, one of the top things interns want from their experience is to learn and do impactful work. Setting achievable goals is also a productivity tip, because when you feel like you can achieve a goal, you’re more likely to feel inspired and eager to complete it.
You also want to be sure that whoever is managing your company’s interns provides them with regular and constructive feedback. This can be done during those one-on-one meetings, but it can also be done on a more frequent or less formal basis. As you’re developing an internship program at your organization, you should include guidelines around when and how often your intern manager should provide feedback.
Be sure that when providing feedback, you’re helping, not hurting. You can help your interns by providing feedback on their work or behavior, not on them as a person, and by highlighting some positives while giving feedback on areas for improvement.
And keep in mind that feedback doesn’t always have to be negative—it can just be pointing out something they did well or thanking your intern for completing a task early. In fact, positive reinforcement can go a long way to reaffirm your interns’ hard work and inspire them to continue what they’ve been doing
Take a look at how you criticize employees, and whether it’s done in a constructive way, to help ensure your feedback is delivered effectively and in a way that can help them grow professionally.
Make Them Part of the Team
Being new and coming into a company where everyone is already experienced and set in their jobs is intimidating enough without feeling like you have to figure things out on your own. You want to welcome your interns as you would welcome any new employee. Try and think back to your first job or internship—you probably remember how nerve-wracking it was.
Your new interns are probably experiencing these feelings, as well. So to counteract that and help make them feel more welcome, you should make them feel like they’re part of the team.
Ideas like introducing them to the other employees, including them in meetings, and even setting up team building activities at work can help them feel included and should be included in your internship program plan so that they’re not forgotten.
Create a Buddy or Mentor Program
This goes along with making your interns a part of the team and including them with full-time employees. Assigning them a buddy or helping them to find a mentor can help them get acclimated in their role and adjust more quickly.
This can also be useful for helping them learn about other roles at the company and can give them someone to confide in or learn from who isn’t their direct boss. A mentor or buddy can be a great help for their career development but also just as a friend to have at their new workplace. Including this program in your internship program template will provide your interns with a valuable resource as they learn about your company and industry.
Increase Responsibility as They Go
If all goes according to plan, you’ll likely see your intern proving that they are capable of handling their tasks and, hopefully, have the potential to take on even more. As mentioned above, interns are typically only with your business for a short amount of time, but if they seem ready for it, you can increase their responsibility or workload. Outlining main goals in your internship program template as well as additional projects they can tackle will help ensure your interns are constantly learning and don’t get bored during their program.
Establish a Review Process
Your internship program framework should also include how you will formally review your interns’ performance—and vice versa. If your internship program culminates in a final project or presentation, be sure to provide feedback on this, as well as on their overall performance. This is also a good time, if your interns performed their duties well, to give them a formal letter of recommendation that they can use for future internships or jobs. And if your interns are receiving school credit for their internship, you will also likely need to complete a review or feedback form for their school.
While you want to make sure you’ve given your interns all the constructive feedback you can, you also want to ask them for any feedback they might have for you, the internship program, or the company overall. This can help you improve your internship program template and help ensure future interns will continue to benefit from their experience.
While the suggestions above can help you establish a successful internship program template, every company and every intern is unique. Your internship program will likely end up looking a bit different than what we’ve outlined above. But keep in mind that interns are looking for a way to set themselves apart, explore career options, gain mentors, and more.
These are simply guidelines to create your specific internship program template, and what works best for you—and for your interns—will vary. Before hiring any interns, the first thing to do is make sure that you have the resources to actually support them in their role. Keep in mind that interns are still learning—that’s the whole reason they’re doing an internship in the first place—but it also means they’ll need more guidance. Your job is to help support them and help them learn so that one day, they can be a full-time employee somewhere, maybe even for you.
Nina Godlewski is a former staff writer at Fundera.
Nina worked to help make complicated business topics more accessible for small business owners. At Fundera, she focused on complex topics ranging from payroll management to launching a business. She was previously a staff writer at Newsweek covering technology, science, breaking news, and culture. She has also worked as a reporter for Business Insider and The Boston Globe.