How to Build a Winning Internship Program

Hand holding a card that reads Internship Program.

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A thoughtful and results-driven internship program is crucial for the career development of your interns. It can enrich their path to success and inspire them to deliver their best performance and contribute significantly. 

This article describes how to design a winning internship program by:

  • defining clear responsibilities,
  • assigning mentors,
  • planning training programs,
  • enhancing the program over time,
  • and evaluating performance.

Taken together, these aspects will create a win-win situation for both the business and its interns. 

8 Tips for building a winning internship program

In order for an internship program to be successful, both the employer and the interns must put in equal effort. However, as an employer, it is your responsibility to build an internship program that can help your interns grow both personally and professionally.

If you want to reap the benefits of a winning internship program, then it is time to get down to it and build one for your future interns. 

Here are 8 tips for creating your internship program that will set it up for success:

1. Start with a great orientation

Group of interns at orientation, which is an important part of any internship program.

An orientation session with your interns is essential. It provides an overview of what they will be learning during their time at your organization.

Before your interns start their first day of actual work, get them familiarized with the company and its departments through an in-depth orientation. You can invite one person from each department to the session so they can make introductions and explain the nature of the work they do for the company. 

If you don’t offer guidance to your interns, they will have a very confusing first day at work. Encourage them to ask questions. A practical internship program must offer the necessary guidance to the interns so they can do their work efficiently. 

Orientation will help your interns feel comfortable in the new environment and make it easier for them to get started with their work. 

2. Create clear job descriptions

Interns come to you with little to no experience, which means they also have no idea of the expectations an employer might have. If you don’t create a well-defined job description for your interns, you can’t expect them to deliver the results you want. 

When writing the description, it is important to remember that the work you are going to assign your interns must be meaningful – not menial. If you only assign grunt work, you will take away from their opportunity to learn and be better at their work.

Smiling intern in glasses during an interview for an internship program.

If interns don’t get anything useful out of their experience at your company, they’re more likely to warn their fellow students/graduates away from working with you in the future, and you definitely don’t want that! You want to make sure that they have an overall positive experience to share – not a negative one.

Examples of meaningful tasks

A few meaningful tasks you can assign to your interns include:

  • Conduct preliminary research for a new project
  • Analyze branding elements like logo design and brand colors (tools like Superside can be used to get quality graphic design)
  • Create a presentation for the next meeting
  • Manage the brand’s social media accounts
  • Get feedback from customers

Through these tasks, your interns will learn things like how to use Excel and how to communicate with customers in the best way possible. 

3. Assign mentors to each intern

Assign each intern a mentor to make sure they can make the most of their time at your company. A mentor can offer professional guidance to the intern so they can keep learning every day. 

It is important to assign a mentor that can adequately guide an intern about their work.

For instance, a finance intern working with an IT manager may not be able to learn much, but if they get a finance manager as a mentor, they can learn things related to their field. A finance manager can teach their mentee how to create balance sheets and keep a record of the company’s financial affairs. 

4. Offer training and other enhancements

A successful internship program goes above and beyond to make sure that the interns get the best learning experience. As an employer, you can employ various methods to make your internship program fruitful for your interns. 

For example, you can organize social events to help your interns learn the importance of networking. You can also arrange lunches with executives so interns get helpful advice and feedback from the higher-ups. 

Internship program checklist with 3 items: goal, skills, and training. Cup of coffee nearby.

Another method of enhancing the internship experience is to offer training opportunities to your interns. To save time, create a training manual instead of designing new training courses every time you hire interns. You can find a training manual template on the web, make changes to it according to your company’s needs, and share it with your internship coordinator.

Creating training opportunities will not only help you improve the performance of your interns but also make a good impression on them. 

5. Give constructive feedback

Performance evaluations can significantly improve the growth of your interns. A detailed performance evaluation can help your intern develop professionally. Apart from adding comments about your intern’s performance, you can divide the evaluation into multiple categories. 

Some categories to evaluate your interns’ performance on are:

Through the evaluation, your interns can learn about their strengths and the weaknesses that they need to work on. 

6. Ask for honest feedback

Just like feedback from an employer can help an intern improve their performance, their feedback can tell you how to improve your internship program.

Interns have a newbie perspective, which means they can offer you fresh ideas. You can regularly ask them for feedback and make changes to your program to accommodate their needs. 

Intern feedback can be obtained through company-wide surveys or by asking them for their opinions during regular team meetings

Smiling young African American intern at a work meeting with diverse colleagues.

Once your interns have completed their internship, you can circulate an offboarding feedback form to get their honest opinion on how it was to work for your company. If you let the interns share their opinion anonymously, they will find it easier to be 100% honest in their feedback. And if they have negative things to say, they’re more likely to vent on the survey than to their friends and family.

7. Reward interns well for their hard work

Don’t miss the chance to reward your interns. Rewarding your interns is a great method to express further gratitude for the work they’ve done while working for your business.

We can all agree that receiving compensation feels good, and it will guarantee that interns will leave your company happy and spread the word about how wonderful and gratifying their internship was. It’s a fantastic way to get the word out on how incredible your company is and to draw in additional qualified interns.

The rewards themselves could be anything from straightforward stationery items to cost-free products or service subscriptions from your business. Or perhaps just an additional cash bonus. 

Another option is to reward your interns with your company’s branded products. For example:

  • t-shirts
  • mugs
  • hats
  • posters
  • goodie bags

These will leave a long-lasting impact on your interns, possibly resulting in your brand being seen by more people everywhere where your interns take your branded merch. Moreover, it’s super easy these days to create company swag that you can give away to your interns.

Printed products are more popular nowadays which allow you to do that without breaking your budget, and it’s super easy and fast. 

8. Stay in touch

Staying in touch with your interns after they have completed their internships can be beneficial for both parties. You can:

  • Send them regular emails about news related to the company or the department they worked in
  • Invite them to join you at company dinners and annual meetups
  • Ask them to connect with you on social media
  • Ask them to refer other qualified interns

Regular communication lets you offer career guidance to your interns, which can leave them with a good impression. They may even seek a full-time career at your company!

You can also help them with any industry-specific questions they might have. This way, you can build a strong connection in the industry and inspire promising talent to come work for you. 

Win-win opportunities

Internship corkboard showing related ideas: goal, practice, opportunity, experience, success, and advice.

To sum things up, here’s how you can create win-win opportunities for both the interns and your business:

  • Communicate better! Good communication is key to a winning internship program
  • Don’t hand off labor-intensive tasks to the interns or give them menial chores
  • Give interns challenging (but not impossible) tasks that can help them grow
  • Treat interns like professionals, and they’ll learn to act like professionals

Building a winning internship program will take time, and you might not get it perfect the first time. As long as you are willing to learn from the experience and help your interns grow, you will be able to establish the right internship program.

Don’t forget to ask your interns for feedback and incorporate their suggestions into your program for the best results.

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