Tips for successful internships

Summer is right around the corner, so it’s not too early to begin planning for interns. Over the years, we’ve had several interns at TEC. Because of our small size, we’ve assigned them to specific projects. In retrospect, we failed because we didn’t expose them to the big picture.

Internship programs should be aimed primarily at educating and developing the intern. If you’re using interns only to replace skilled employees who have been hired or laid off, or for “make work” temporary jobs, you probably won’t succeed.

The basic idea is to give students a chance to practice their business skills, explore career options and, perhaps, land a job after graduation with your own company.

My thanks this month to the resources within the Vistage Library at for leading me to the subject of creating an effective internship program for your business.

Here are 10 ways to make it a success:

  1. Write a job description. This will give prospective interns a chance to opt out if they don’t like what they see. It also lets them know what their responsibilities, objectives or job goals will be. It insures that their work will not duplicate the work of other employees. And it lets other employees know what you expect of your interns.
  2. Set a start and end date. This will help interns sort through their own schedules, especially if they’re taking classes while they’re working for you. You will also want to schedule a final evaluation. That’s when you issue a report card and rate the intern.
  3. Create an intern manual. You can pirate some of it from your employee handbook. But it will have far more meaning if it’s uniquely tailored to the intern. The basic idea is to bring interns up to date on those things that really count in your company. For example: dress codes, the prevailing culture, computer/social media policies, work hours, disciplinary policies and so on.
  4. Adopt a recruitment and interview protocol. Recruitment sources should include your own website, Internet job boards (Craigslist,, and Many high schools, most universities and vocational schools have internship-designated coordinators.
  5. Reserve office space. Make sure this isn’t an afterthought. Unless they’re in a factory non-supervisory position, they should have their own work station or cubicle, their own computer, password access, and any other security devices you require of your employees.
  6. Have an intern orientation. At minimum, this should take a day, more than likely two days. Interns should meet and have private discussions with each employee with whom they’ll be working. Schedule these discussions in advance. Your employees should talk to the intern about things like how they, as employees, contribute to company goals and what the company culture is from their perspective.
  7. Know how much to pay. Check with your attorney about pay issues. If the intern is receiving course credit for the internship, pay might be inappropriate. National surveys show that undergraduate interns are paid an average $15 to $17 an hour, and graduate students earn up to $24 an hour. The National Association of Colleges and Employers has more information at its website at
  8. Assign a supervisor. One employee should be assigned to supervise and mentor the intern during the entire internship. Who you select shouldn’t do this as a no-pay add-on responsibility. The supervisor shouldn’t be in the type of position that requires a lot of time away from the company. Choose someone with good mentoring and teaching skills.
  9. Involve the intern. Good interns don’t want jobless tasks or assignments. They want to be a part of an employee team that has a mission to support or develop a key company long-term goal. Putting them in charge of an area of your company that you feel is important will increase their self-esteem and perceived value to you. Involving them in pertinent department meetings is a case in point.
  10. Set expectations. You’ll have hits and misses with your interns. After all, they are junior employees. So don’t assign them to tasks critical to your company’s success. They will probably make mistakes. When they do, correct them firmly but gently.

One last important point: When the internship has concluded, offer a written recommendation that can be used during a job search. You may even want to encourage the intern to apply at your company after graduation.

By the way, don’t assume your company is too small to take advantage of an internship. Smaller companies have a more intimate cultural environment and a much better opportunity to be hands on with the intern.

I hope you will give a prospective intern out there a chance to grow with your company.

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display