Tips for a successful internship program

They gain experience and you gain the help you need!

They gain experience and you gain the help you need!

Offering internships to college students can be a great way for a small business owner to augment his or her labor force, but many aren’t sure where to find students, what kind of tasks to assign them, how to word internship postings, and how to select candidates. Others wonder how much work managing a successful internship program will be and whether the payoff will be worthwhile. The latter is a something only the business can decide, but having answers to the other questions can help find the answer.

Ultimately, the employment of interns can be a great labor source for business while providing critical experiential learning opportunities for students. Done right, it truly is a win-win.

First, it’s important to understand how colleges and universities view a successful internship. While a business owner’s primary concern is whether the internship is paid or unpaid, the college classifies these experiential learning opportunities as “for-credit” and “non-credit.” If the student is not receiving credit, the intern is simply looking to gain experience, build her resume, and possibly earn a bit of money. The arrangements regarding number of hours worked, length of the relationship, pay, and duties assigned are between the business owner and the intern.

In a for-credit internship, the student earns college credit, just as if he or she were completing a course. Some academic programs require one or more internships as part of the curriculum, while others allow internships as electives. If the internship is for-credit, the student will be required to complete a specific number of hours within a specific time period. In Georgia, the period is usually one semester and the number of hours varies from about 90 to about 150, depending on the program. The student generally receives two to five hours of course credit (and pays tuition and fees for these hours, just as with any other class) and must usually complete a log of hours, show samples of work completed, and possibly write two or three essays about their experience. In most cases, pay is completely up to the employer and student. However, a few programs require students to complete paid internships while others disallow students to earn course credit if they are being paid. In the case of a for-credit internship, the employer should expect to sign initial paperwork describing what type of work the intern will complete, sign an hours log at specified points (often weekly), and complete an evaluation at the end of the internship. Your evaluation will most likely form a significant portion of the student’s grade for the course.

Most academic colleges and universities, whether public or private, now include internships as either elective or mandatory hours.

Technical colleges often do so for professional and academic programs, such as business and English, but the experiential requirements for traditional technical programs such as mechanics or childcare are somewhat different and subject to more stringent qualification and review. Businesses interested in considering interns should contact the career services departments of local colleges to begin the listing process.

For the most part, creating an internship listing is much like writing a posting for any job. Intern position announcements should include the type of work you need the intern to do, the number of hours per week you have available, and whether or not the position is paid. Summer internships can also be posted on job boards because students coming home for the break might be looking for internship opportunities. Other internship connections are made when the student approaches a business or through networking or word-of-mouth.

Businesses who post intern listings, either with the school or through more traditional means, should follow typical interviewing procedures when choosing interns. They should request and review resumes, interview candidates, and make a formal offer, when possible. This not only helps the business choose an intern who will benefit the company, but also helps students become familiar with the hiring process.

Finding the right place for them is crucial!

Finding the right place for them is crucial!

One of the biggest debates about interns is what type of work to assign them. Employers often look at interns like any other part-time employee and assign the kinds of tasks they would give to any other entry-level worker, such as filing and copying. In a for-credit scenario, however, this means that students are earning course credit – often at the upper-level – to file papers. Since an internship is really intended to create learning, this can be an issue. This doesn’t mean that interns should never be assigned such tasks, but simply that they should not be assigned only this kind of work. Remember that most will be required to turn in a portfolio, which will be graded.

Which brings us to the difficult question: is hiring an intern worthwhile? Honestly, it depends. Certainly, the intern’s supervisor will put a certain amount into working with the student, just as with any other employee. And, since internships are, by their nature, temporary, the payoff period is limited. That said, it’s not unusual for interns to return, either as full- or part-time employees or for additional internships, when the experience works out well for both parties. Further, interns are usually in their junior and senior years of college, so they’ve had a certain amount of experience already. And if they’re earning college credit, they have extra incentive to do a good job.

Just as internship positions vary in terms of opportunity for learning, however, interns vary in terms of capability and dedication, which is why the interview process is so important. Ultimately, the employment of interns can be a great labor source for businesses while providing critical experiential learning opportunities for students. Done right, a successful internship is truly a win-win.

Maggie Coughlin

Maggie is an author, speaker, trainer, strategist, freelance writer, blogger and life coach. She's also a reader, life learner, hair flower obsessionist, dog schmuck, DIY enthusiast, Mensan, and dreamer. Maggie lives in Newnan with her sweet rescue pup, Jazzy.