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9 Tips to Help You Build a Best in Class Internship Program

Written by Shawn Turner

Summary: Hundreds gathered at Corporate College East on Feb. 21 for the 2019 Cleveland Internship Summit. Throughout the year, we will be bringing you highlights from the event. Today’s recap focuses on what it takes to build best in class internships.

There’s little doubt that internship programs bring a great amount of value to the companies that utilize them. But for those companies that aren’t already benefitting from the power of internships, getting a program off the ground can seem intimidating.

During the 2019 Cleveland Internship Summit, a panel of companies that had already overcome the initial challenges involved in launching an internship program shared with attendees what they learned during the process. Here are the top 10 insights given by Maureen Pansky of the Oatey Company; Julie Kelley of the City Club of Cleveland; and Annette Kramer of Vizion Solutions during the “Building Best in Class Internships” breakout session.

Tip No. 1: Hire interns the way you’d hire anyone else

The hiring process you have in place for bringing on interns should mirror the process you have in place when you hire full-time employees. Piggyback on the hiring policies and procedures you already have in place and view your internship program as a vehicle for potentially bringing on additional full-time help down the road.

Tip No. 2: Know how to measure success

The metric that define the success of your program isn’t necessarily about how many interns you recruit. The intangibles, such as watching your interns grow professionally and become more confident during their internship; the fresh ideas they are bringing to your organization; and how well they are communicating with your customers and fellow employees are just as important as raw numbers.

Tip No. 3: Find a partner

It’s natural to immediately think to build pipeline partnerships with colleges, but don’t forget about other sources of potential interns, too, such as high schools and 2-year institutions. Before you begin working with high school students, make sure you are aware of state laws regarding the work minors can do, however.

Tip No. 4: What’s your why?

Before you begin recruiting, take time to define the kinds of projects the interns will be working on beforehand. And also ensure job roles and descriptions are clearly spelled out.

Tip No. 5: Learn from others

Before you get started, talk to representatives from other companies who have implemented successful internship programs. Their blueprint can help shape yours, too. In addition, seek out events, such as the Cleveland Internship Summit, where you can learn about the kinds of things that make for an outstanding internship program. Finally, learn from the students you bring on. Listen to their feedback on how useful your program is and don’t be afraid to change one or two things each session to keep your internship program relevant.

Tip No. 6: Have everything ready in advance

Make sure any projects your interns will be working on are ready to go well in advance. This will help ensure your interns are busy as soon as possible and will also help to prevent your program turning into a daylong social hour. Also, get requests for interns in as early as possible so you can get word out to schools and others in your recruitment pipeline in a timely manner.

Tip No. 7: Think about your onboarding process

Power up the first few days that your interns are on board with an exceptional onboarding process. Get them up to speed on your company’s culture, where to find what, and see to it that your interns connect with their peers in the program. Consider also matching up your interns with an employee mentor or set up regular “lunch and learn” sessions through out the internship that can help address questions interns might have about working in a professional environment. Relatedly, don’t forget to include an orientation session that deals with soft skills such as the company conduct policy, dress code, etc. Encourage questions from your interns and check in with them regularly to make sure things are continuing to go smoothly for them.

Tip No. 8: Empower employees

Give your full-time employees a chance to gain valuable leadership experience by letting them mentor your interns.

Tip No. 9: Know when to recruit

Give yourself plenty of lead time (think eight or nine months) when it comes to sourcing your interns. For example, if your internship is taking place in the summer (which is the most common time companies run their internship programs), make sure you’re recruiting in August and September as that’s when most schools will be holding their career fairs and it’s also when students will be wanting to lock in their summer internships.

Want to know more about internship best practices? Visit the Greater Cleveland Partnership’s Internship Central hub to learn more about how to build a best-in-class internship program at your business.

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