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How to Start an Internship Program

Author

Marcia Layton Turner

More by Marcia
Author

Marcia Layton Turner

More by Marcia

Internships are an effective recruitment tool and a great way to "try before you buy" and confirm potential employees are a good fit for your company. According to a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, nearly 90 percent of students who were "very" or "extremely" satisfied with their internship reported they would accept an employment offer from the company for whom they worked.

Many small businesses may be wondering how to start an internship program. While establishing a program isn't necessarily difficult, it's important to ensure your company can benefit from one. Interns can provide valuable contributions, but only if the business is clear about when, where and how to make use of their talents.

Assess

The first step of building an internship program is to determine how interns can help your business. Before you commit important resources to attracting and hiring interns, be sure they can add value where it is needed. Think through the following questions:

  • What work do you need done?
  • What work are interns capable of doing for you?
  • Who will oversee them?
  • What kind of training will they receive?
  • Where will they work?
  • How long will they work?
  • Will you be able to offer them future full-time employment opportunities?
  • Can you afford them?

Define

Be specific on the number of interns required to meet business needs, what their job descriptions will entail, which skills are required, which new skills you can offer to teach them and what pay you can offer.

Generally, private sector employers must compensate interns in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In some rare cases, it may be possible for your company to offer an unpaid internship, provided your internship program meets certain criteria outlined by the Department of Labor (DOL). If you are considering offering an unpaid internship, it is best to err on the side of caution and consult your legal counsel to ensure the program meets the DOL's requirements.

Since the purpose of many internship programs is to identify future talent, it may be in a company's interest to offer attractive compensation packages to help incentivize interns to accept full-time offers.

Search

Post your internship announcement on a wide range of places, such as Internships.com, Internmatch.com, LinkedIn.com and local and regional college and university career websites.

Evaluate

Review the resumes you receive from candidates and select finalists who have the skills you need. Schedule phone or video interviews to further winnow the list. Interview more interns than you need in case your top picks don't accept.

Hire

Make offers to candidates in order of preference, depending on how many interns you need and how many future employment opportunities you anticipate being able to offer. Review expectations and job requirements with each successful candidate, then schedule a start date. Remember, you should never promise any kind of future employment beyond the internship opportunity during the hiring process; it should be clear to the candidates that the internship is considered at-will employment and is subject to termination at any time, for any lawful reason.

As a best practice, you should assign each intern a mentor and someone who will manage them and monitor and evaluate their performance. Be sure to follow up to make sure the mentor and manager are checking in with the intern periodically throughout the internship program.

Once you know how to start an internship program, it can become a hiring pipeline, helping you to identify strong potential employees among younger and older workers.