Internet entrepreneur Shilpa Ahuja discusses 15 easy steps on how to create a good internship program, from planning to promotion to mentorship.
The corporate world has changed drastically in the last decade or two. In the old days, managers used to think of interns as the annoying kids on the block, who would neither show up regularly nor take responsibility for work. As the 90s and 2000s movies portrayed, the job of interns just used to be to run errands and fetch coffee. But the millennial and Gen Z generation has proven that interns can be a valuable asset to any company.
Especially in the post-Covid world, cost-cutting has been essential for every business. We’ve all been forced to think of new ways to be efficient with delegation and hiring, and interns can prove to be a great resource in times like these. Moreover, colleges in all fields have incorporated a mandatory internship program as a part of the curriculum, so most companies already hire or are considering hiring interns.
But how to make sure your interns actually deliver and feel motivated? What makes an internship program successful? From my experience in conducting ShilpaAhuja.com internship program for 3 years in a row, attracting more than 400 applications and having worked with over 30 interns from different colleges all over India, I have created this guide. I hope you find my suggestions for internship program helpful.
15 Steps to Create a Good Internship Program
Even though I’ve laid out 15 detailed steps that can help you make a good internship program, they’re mostly based on the same 4 ideologies: planning, mutual benefit, trust, and transparency.
How to create an internship program?
The internship program has to be well-planned for it to be successful, and it has to provide real benefits to the interns in terms of experience. The company should trust interns to do proper work. And lastly, the internship process, selection and feedback should all be transparent, which again, will build interns’ trust and loyalty, forming a meaningful relationship.
So let’s break down these 15 steps so you can create a good internship program easily.
1. Design a Formal Internship Program
Designing the internship program means planning all its details beforehand. These details include duration, application process and deadlines, tasks, expectations and perks. For example, the ShilpaAhuja.com summer internship program is 90-day long, for the summer vacation, where interns have to submit 2-3 writing samples along with resume to apply and are expected to work on 6-7 writing or graphic projects to receive a certificate.
A well-designed program will be time-consuming the first time, but it will become your internship program template year after year.
2. Plan Their Projects & Learnings
The interns want to make real contributions to the company; they want to know that their work is valued and useful. They don’t want to waste their time doing menial tasks or waiting for instructions. Ideally, you should brainstorm their tasks and projects during the internship program planning stage. These should be included in the job description and the program framework (more on that later).
A good internship program should also make sure the interns learn a lot. They are here to get real world experience. They want to learn how it is like to work in a company, and be a useful employee. So assign a mentor for the program. The mentor’s job will be to introduce interns to the company properly, brief them about their work, provide feedback and clear their doubts.
3. Design a Good Internship Title
Instead of calling them just ‘interns’, create a nice title, like ‘Software Engineer Intern’ or ‘Junior Coder’. It will also make them feel their role is more serious and encourage them to take it as such. This title will also look good on their resume and encourage them to choose your internship over another company’s.
4. Create a Transparent Application Process
Post the application deadline and result date beforehand, both on your company website and on hiring websites/ social media. Furthermore, lay out your required qualifications, number of openings, tasks & expectations and hiring/approval criteria. What kind of a person are you looking for, what skills you need, and what will make you select one applicant over another? Everything should be transparent.
This will make the interns feel more encouraged to apply, as they know someone actually cares about their application and it won’t go unnoticed.
5. Promote the Internship Program to Attract Talent
The key to hiring smart interns is to attract lots of applicants. And the key to attracting many people is to promote the program extensively and well in advance.
How to promote internship program? Create an internship page and put it up on your company website – include all details; make it fun and interesting. Here’s what to include in the internship page:
- Job description
- Job role or title
- Important dates: application deadline, result announcement
- Qualification required
- Selection criteria
- Benefits, perks, stipend, learnings
- How to apply
- HR email address and company’s contact number
- Important links: about the company, mentor, other job openings in the company
These details will also help you create your own internship program template, as you basically need to plan all these things before you conduct your program.
Furthermore, promote the page and your hiring needs on social media and hiring sites like Internshala, Shine.com or LinkedIn. Spread the word through current employees or on company notice-board.
You can also do SEO (search engine optimization) of your internship page by adding helpful keywords so more applicants can see the postings and you get more choices. Also post it on college bulletin boards, email the hiring requirements to recruitment heads of select colleges.
6. Create a Job Description & Internship Itinerary
A detailed job description should list out all the tasks an intern is expected to do. This will help applicants get a clear idea so they can make a decision to apply/join. It will also help them understand the role better and deliver results.
Moreover, create a detailed framework of the overall program that details out what part of the project is expected to be completed by what time. For example, in the SAM internship program, Journalist Interns are provided an itinerary, which lists minor deadlines like first draft, edit submission, etc. for the first article they’ll write. Second project onwards, interns are to set their own minor deadlines and are only given major deadlines.
So give the prospective interns and applicants a clear idea of what to expect, how long they will be working on specific tasks and what all they’ll get to learn.
7. Hire Smart Interns & a Diverse Group
Many companies hire interns based on contacts, top colleges, etc. But what makes a good internship program is people who really fit your company. When you plan the hiring process, think not just about the qualifications but also soft skills.
Take time to sift through resumes to find smart, enthusiastic interns who are useful to your company, who can be good assets in the future, too. Year after year, you’ll get to know your company’s requirements more and be able to hire interns who’re better suited.
Also try to hire a diverse batch. Interns have so far been students of a college, mostly learning alongside peers of their own age and from the same city. However, at your internship, they really enjoy the fact that they’re now competing with people of different ages and backgrounds. For example, for the first batch of the SAM internship program, I invited applications from all over the country and the batch consisted of 12 interns from 10 different cities and 6 different academic backgrounds (degrees pursuing).
8. Make a Formal Offer
Interns should receive an offer letter and basic contract so they take the internship seriously. Also, ask for their contact details, full address, copy of a government-issued ID, and references.
9. Plan an Orientation
Company orientation is an event in which new employees are introduced to the company and each other. It is a great way to make a good first impression on them, as it is their first day as a working professional.
The purpose of your orientation should be to make sure your interns understand your company, its vision and brand. Also introduce the mentor and employee expectations. You can also hold introductory sessions where they all introduce themselves, and talk about what they’re here to learn and work on.
10. Motivate Them & Keep Them Busy
When interns are busy, they feel they are contributing to the company and it makes them feel fulfilled about their work. So they should have something to do even when they’re waiting for feedback or instructions on their previous work.
Encourage the interns to be efficient and complete their work on time. Compliment them when they meet deadlines. Encourage them to inform the mentor as soon as they finish their task so they can move on to the next. And make sure they know what tasks are upcoming, so that they are enthusiastic about taking them up.
11. Create Healthy Competition & Clarity through a Shared Task Sheet
Set deadlines for each task, send a proper brief and create a shared task sheet. This can help the interns know what’s next. It will also help them know what their peers are working on so it creates healthy competition.
12. Give (and Get) Timely Feedback
Feedback is important for every employee, but it is even more crucial for interns. Interns have so far been used to getting grades in school and college, so they expect more detailed feedback than an experienced employee.
Moreover, interns usually show higher levels of enthusiasm on joining, and on having their first real world experience. This enthusiasm can be kept alive only through encouragement and motivation. The best way to motivate employees (other than salary) is by making them feel like they’re valued.
So give them feedback on their small tasks. Applaud their work in front of others, and criticize them privately. Furthermore, feedback should also be a two-way street. And the end of the internship, ask for their feedback on the internship program as well. Ask them how to improve it, whether it was up to their expectations and what the best task they worked on was.
13. Give Them Stipend
A good internship program should not be free. The stipend should be mentioned in a transparent way during the hiring process and should be paid monthly.
14. Offer Gifts & Additional Perks
What can the interns receive that helps them feel like a real part of the company? The best perks interns can receive is a permanent job offer, if their work is good. For gifts, you can give them visiting cards if they’re there for longer duration. Other than that, they can receive company merchandize like coffee mugs or tee-shirts, and their work can be showcased on company website.
For example, I sent all my interns (both current and ex-interns) personalized Audrey O. notebooks and coffee mugs on Christmas and they were all really happy to receive them.
Last Christmas, I gave them my mugs, and the very next day, I heard great reviews. This year, to make it more clear, I’ll give them something even more special! (Sorry, now you’ll be thinking of this song all day! :P)
15. Provide Internship Certificate & Recommendation Letter
A good internship program should make the interns feel proud of their work. Everyone who completes at least a considerable amount of work should receive an experience letter. Personally, I give out recommendation letters based on performance, and internship certificates only to those who complete the set targets.