Developing an Internship Program

What is an Internship?

An internship provides hands-on learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting. Internships give students the opportunity to gain valuable experience and professional connections in fields they are considering and provides employers with the opportunity to guide and evaluate talent.  (See the NACE Position Statement on Internships.)

The following criteria should be considered when constructing an internship position:

  • Internships can occur during the fall, spring, or summer and range from a couple of months to over six months in duration. The average internship lasts about a semester (four months).
  • While some internships are full-time, most range from 10 - 30 hours per week.
  • Internships can be paid (preferably) or unpaid (typically non-profit settings), for credit or not for credit, or any combination of these. The U.S. Department of Labor's Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (PDF) provides guidance regarding whether your interns should be paid the minimum wage.
  • Details about the number of hours worked, length of internship, rate of pay, and other specifics are typically negotiated between employers and potential interns. Internships for-credit may include input from a a faculty adviser
  • Normally, an intern does not receive employee or retirement benefits.
  • Learn more about internships with the Internship Quick Guide (PDF).

Benefits of an Internship

Employers who utilize interns are provided the opportunity to temporarily increase staff size and accomplish short-term projects at minimal costs. Interns bring a current knowledge base and new perspectives to the work environment. Employers can also benefit from an enhanced reputation on campus spread through word of mouth by satisfied interns and positive faculty relationships. A positive internship experience can lead to a potential full-time hire that requires minimal training, is able to take on more immediate responsibility, and stays longer with the organization.

Developing an Internship

Developing an internship position will require some research and planning on your part to provide a well-rounded, positive, learning experience for the intern.  Many internship positions are formed by identifying the following criteria:

  • Special projects

    Interns can be utilized to accomplish special projects such as creating promotional materials, conducting research, designing web pages and organizing special events and programs. The goals, deadlines, and outcomes for a project-focused internship should be identified so that everyone clearly understands the interns roles and responsibilities.

  • Personnel resources

    Some organizations routinely experience peak periods where additional staff are needed, or there is a continuous demand for staff due to limited budgets. Interns can help to alleviate some of these staffing concerns. For example, interns can be assigned to serve as public relations assistants, marketing associates or computer support staff. Since professional development should be the priority, it is inappropriate to assign an intern to a position that is strictly clerical in scope. While there are clerical duties associated with any position, these should not be the focus of the internship.

  • Time commitments

    Once the internship duties have been identified, you should determine the time required to fulfill the duties of the internship. This includes the number of months and hours per week the intern will work.

  • Level of staff support

    Although you and your supervisor may see the need for an intern in your organization, you must also gain the support of other staff members who may be working with and mentoring the intern during his or her stay.

Recruiting Interns

Once you have identified the scope of the internship and necessary resources, you will need to create a position description that explains the duties, skills, qualifications, pay, and time commitments of the internship. The completed position description will be used to begin the recruiting process. Career Exploration and Development can assist you with your hiring efforts through our recruiting services.

Mentoring Interns

Effective mentoring strategies contribute to intern motivation and performance and enable interns to acclimate more quickly to your organizational culture. Successful mentors are strong listeners, offer frequent and honest feedback, work to understand the intern's strengths and weaknesses, and focus on the intern's professional as well as personal growth. Consider the following tips for mentoring your interns:

  1. Introduce interns to co-workers and key contacts within the organization and familiarize interns with company rules and policies.
  2. Utilize the “buddy system” by assigning mentors who can show interns the ropes and accelerate their productivity and sense of belonging.
  3. Communicate employment expectations in a clear and concise manner. Encourage interns to ask questions to clarify position responsibilities.
  4. Assign the intern challenging tasks and projects that offer growth opportunities matched to the intern's abilities and interests.
  5. Provide shadowing time for interns to observe other staff and include interns in staff meetings and related professional activities whenever possible.

Evaluating Interns

Providing performance feedback is critical to the intern and success of your internship program. The evaluation process can include post-internship surveys and exit interviews. Please see the Sample Intern Performance Feedback Form (DOC).