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Internship Nuts & Bolts: Best practices for building a successful internship program

Written by Angela Finding

The Fifth Annual Cleveland Internship Summit was February 27, 2020 at Corporate College East attended by more than 200 business, community, and representatives. Throughout the year, we will be bringing you highlights covered during the event. Today’s recap focuses on best practices shared by employers with successful internship programs.

A few months ago, planning and implementing internship programs seemed business as usual. Fast forward to today and we now know internship programs will look and feel a lot different in summer 2020. Even though internships will be planned differently now (and likely going forward) there are still some fundamental pieces and parts of any internship program that are critical to the success and value for both the employer and intern. The employers featured on the Internship Nuts & Bolts panel shared many of those foundational pieces that have helped make their own programs successful throughout the years.

The session featured Angela Cain with the Cleveland Clinic (session moderator); Jessica Shook with Dwellworks Cleveland; Matt Sajna with Greater Cleveland Sports Commission; and Kate Coulson with Park Place Technologies

Each panelist started by sharing the basic structure of their programs. When describing their programs, some very clear themes emerged:

  • Their programs take place in the summer and ranged from 10-12 weeks.
  • The internship hours were the same as the standard work week and did include some evening meetings and events.
  • They hire approximately 2-10 interns during the summer (There is not a magic number for how many interns you should have. It depends on your unique company needs and capacity.).
  • Their programs have dedicated staff who manage the operation and implementation of the internship program.
  • They all have very clear expectations and goals for their internship program.
  • They work closely with colleges and universities to recruit interns (though this is not the only way to recruit).
  • Their programs are supported by the leadership at their organizations.
  • They create intern work plans in advance of the internship (similar to a college syllabus), and the work plans are developed with the goals of the internship in mind, include clear expectations and timing for projects, and include professional development opportunities. Click here for a sample work plan template.

When it comes to recruiting interns, it is very important to develop a relationship with colleges and universities. Often, employers start working with the career services offices and can expand their engagement to faculty and student organizations. Expanding the relationship to different groups within any school is also one important element in recruiting diverse talent. Overall, make sure your university recruitment plan is comprehensive and meets the students where they are, this will include a variety of touch points such as the college job board, career services, career fairs, student organizations, faculty, and more.

All the panelists agreed that managing and growing internship programs take time, investment, and support, starting with leadership. If developing and building an early talent pipeline becomes part of the talent strategy and culture of the organization, then your internship program already has the foundation to be successful. The structure of their programs is common among successful programs because of the support and dedication invested in the program.

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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