Internships are a great way for students and recent graduates to gain practical work experience in their chosen career field, and these days it’s more common for college students to complete an internship as a part of their studies. Some degree programs require successful completion of an internship. If you’ve found yourself questioning whether bringing on interns would be beneficial to your organization, or if you know you want to offer an internship experience but aren’t sure where to start, we’re here to help! Let’s take a look at what it takes to build a thriving internship program.
Why Would You Want Interns?
Aside from providing students with real-world experience, hiring interns can help your organization in a number of ways. First, interns can help advance your operational maturity. Bringing interns into the fold also helps elevate people by pushing tasks down and allows work to be done by the lowest cost employee. Lastly, the internship program helps you identify excellent candidates for full-time employment within your organization.
For some organizations, it may be beneficial to create more of an apprenticeship culture with your program. In an apprenticeship culture, you are establishing a method for teaching new skills that happen in four stages:
- You do, I watch. In this stage, the trainee doesn’t do anything but learn, study, and ask questions.
- You do, I help. Here, the trainer will start to ask, “What would you do here?” and provides the trainee with an opportunity to try and fail in a low-risk scenario.
- I do, you help. In this stage of the process, the trainee does the work with the trainer by his or her side to answer questions or provide correction when appropriate.
- I do, you watch. This is the new normal. The trainer may be available from time to time for really difficult scenarios.
With the apprenticeship culture approach, a new intern or team member has to learn and adapt to this way of learning. By doing so, they quickly speed up their ability to learn new skills. At its peak, this method allows you to document a repeatable task consistently and train the intern on how to use this documentation system to find what he or she needs and walk step-by-step through the solution. In turn, you are building better processes and documentation that can be used repeatedly throughout your entire operation not only for interns and new team members but also when you need to implement something new to other employees.
Recruiting and Hiring Interns
The process of recruiting needs to start by focusing on the long-term vision for the internship program. Then that vision must stay at the forefront when determining who these new team members will report to, designing the internship program to meet degree requirements, writing and posting the job description, and promoting or marketing the position.
From there, you can consider hiring your interns or apprentices in groups and aligning your program with semesters. There should be an end goal for your organization and your interns, and you should hold them accountable and measure their performance. This will be instrumental in determining who to extend offers to prior to the end of the program.
A Few Helpful Tips We’ve Learned Along the Way
Finding a Great Intern
- DO go to college career fairs. They are great places to find potential interns interested in specific fields.
- DO use your connections. Rocket IT hires a good portion of our interns through referrals from our own employees as well as our Chamber of Commerce and other connections in our network.
What to Look for In an Intern
- At Rocket IT, experience with technology is important, but that is something we can teach. We look for interns who are people-oriented, customer service-focused, and a good cultural fit for us.
- Look for interns with a firm foundation in the basics, such as communication skills and reliability.
- The ability to pass a background check is important, especially if your interns could work on higher-level projects if they have the skills to do so.
What to Consider if Interns Will Do Work Similar to Full-Time Employees
- DO look at their skill level. Are they able to complete the basic tasks of their role? Can they take on more complex projects? For example, at Rocket IT, our interns may assist in some client support tickets (such as password resets), but we also have them help in desktop setups. Occasionally, we may have them help with higher-level work if they have the right amount of experience and are cleared to work on the project.
- DO supervise work completed by interns, especially if they are working on a higher-level project. The last thing you want is for something to be overlooked and need to do the work over, as that can impact your bottom line.
- DO aim to balance efficiency with practicality. College juniors and seniors’ school schedules can be challenging, so take this into consideration as you coordinate an intern’s schedule with the team members they will be working alongside.
- Some people are surprised by the fact that our internships are paid positions. However, if we know we will have an opening at the end of the internship, we use this as an opportunity to try and convert the intern into a full-time employee, and we feel paying our interns shows that we value them. This also gives us a good starting point for determining their salary if they come on full-time after the internship.
Accountability & Reporting
- Remember that this is a learning experience for your interns, but DO implement accountability into the internship program. For example, if an intern is consistently late, use the same general disciplinary procedure you use with your other employees.
- DO consider an exit interview. This will allow you to make sure that the experience was mutually beneficial and gain insight from your interns on their experience working for you.
Other Lessons We’ve Learned
- When we were new to having interns, we quickly realized that we needed to find interns that are a good fit for our organization. Otherwise, the effort is half-hearted and doesn’t provide much benefit to either party. If you don’t have stellar candidates, DON’T force it. Finding the best fit is of the utmost importance.
- DON’T judge an intern by how they start your program. Often, this is their first experience in a professional work environment and it may take a little more coaching. Give a little leeway and base your opinions on the cumulative internship experience.