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How to Run an Effective Intern Program

Summer is coming, and for many businesses that means interns. An intern program can be incredibly valuable for your business, but only if it is executed properly. Great intern programs require a great deal of work, thought, and follow through. Many organizations just kind of slap them together, but this is a mistake, because intern programs can be incredible tools for your company.

Yes, intern programs are hard work to run but they can pay off big time—for both your company and the intern—with the right focus, structure, and execution. Great intern programs all have one thing in common: the organization takes it seriously. Here are the four main things to consider when fashioning and running your program:

  1. Set clear goals and purposes. Determine what you want to get out of the program. What are the goals and purposes? Is it recruiting and training new talent? Hiring cheap summer help? Marketing your company?
  1. Establish structure and strategies to meet those goals. How will you meet these goals? How and where will you recruit? How are you onboarding, evaluating, and tracking the program? 
  1. Make sure you get management’s support and buy-in. No program will succeed if management isn’t on board. Are the managers of the interns on board with the program? Do they understand the goals? Do they have the proper training and resources to create valuable experiences for both the organization and the interns?
  1. Consider what the interns will get out of it. Your interns won’t just work there, they will also broadcast their opinions about your organization, so make sure they say the right things. Are you providing them with a valuable experience? Did you meet their expectations? Would they recommend your organization to other interns or prospective employees? What will they say about you?

    Great programs share the same traits. Bad programs do too! Here are the three most common mistakes and how to avoid them:

Mistake 1: Not ensuring your managers are in alignment with the program goals. The people managing the interns are the key to your program’s success. Make sure you choose the right people to work with the interns, have trained them properly, and that they are on board with the program’s goals.

Mistake 2: Not providing meaningful work or professional development for your interns. Your intern program shouldn’t be about be fetching coffee, it should be about introducing young adults to the workplace in general and your company in particular. They want to learn and make a meaningful contribution, so give them something real to do.

Mistake 3: Being all flash and no fire. This is when organizations spend the summer wining, dining, and schmoozing their interns instead of actually seeing if they would be a good match for the organization. Law firms and Wall Street firms used to be notorious for this. But research shows that there isn’t much correlation between the money spent and the retention it inspires, and lots of firms are rethinking this practice. Find a way to make the internship meaningful to both parties.


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