Internship programs are great opportunities for students to develop skills, gain insights into a new industry, and prepare for their futures after graduation. These programs also give your existing employees the chance to become mentors, and they can even turn into great sources of new talent for your organization.
Great internship programs don’t just happen by accident. You need to do some planning and coordinating. Take these six steps to create a successful program for your company and your interns:
1. Find the Need
You will want to first determine what department or team could actually benefit from an intern. Of course, this should be a function where the intern can benefit as well.
Start by asking team leaders or managers for their opinions on the subject. Would they be comfortable taking on a mentorship role? Would they be able to continue their work effectively while helping an intern grow?
2. Determine Duration
There’s no official rule for how long an internship needs to be, but the Department of Labor does state you cannot keep an intern indefinitely. You will either need to hire them on as an employee or part ways at the end of the internship. Many companies find a summer-length internship most beneficial, as students are out of school at that time and able to devote full attention to the internship. However, some interns will be juggling school work with their internships, so it’s a good idea to be flexible with respect to schedule expectations.
Depending on what your company is seeking, an apprenticeship could be a great alternative to an internship as well. Apprentices earn while they learn, and 90 percent are gainfully employed by the conclusion of their apprenticeship.
3. Structure a Timeline of Tasks
The more prepared your team is for the program, the more successful your intern will be. Before the internship begins, schedule a timeline of events, tasks, and check-ins. That way, you will be sure to stay on top of your intern’s progress throughout the program. Make sure the tasks you set are reasonable ones that the intern can realistically accomplish given the length of the program.
Aside from setting out tasks in advance, you’ll also want to draft a clear set of rules and expectations so that the team and the intern are on the same page about the program.
4. Engage Your Interns
Do not assume interns know the ins and outs of your company and their roles when starting. They will likely need more guidance and training than the average new employee. After all, most interns have never been part of the professional workforce before.
Set aside time every week or two to meet with the intern to discuss what they are doing, what they’ve learned, and where they might need help. Talk about their goals and how their projects are coming along, and find ways to align the intern’s aims with the company’s needs and capabilities.
If you can, consider having your intern rotate in and out of different departments throughout the program. This would give them the opportunity to explore the entire company and engage with various employees and fellow interns.
5. Solicit Feedback
As the program draws to a close, sit down with the intern and a member of their primary team to discuss the experience. Ask the intern to offer feedback on both the positive and negative aspects of the program and listen to any ideas they may have for making improvements. Keep the feedback in mind for the next intern and consider implementing any changes your current intern suggests.
You may want to provide the intern with a list of questions ahead of the meeting so they can prepare, rather than being caught off guard.
6. Wrap It Up — Or Extend a Job Offer
Once you, the team, and your intern have reflected on the experience, it is time to make a choice: Will you part ways, or will you offer the intern a full-time position after graduation?
Regardless of whether you offer the intern a job, this is also your chance to give feedback on the intern’s overall performance. Feedback is one of the most important components of an internship program, and the intern is expecting it from you. Hold up your end of the deal by giving the intern actionable advice on how they can grow as a professional.
A version of this article originally appeared on the Oleeo blog.
Jeanette Maister is managing director of the Americas for Oleeo.