Summer Interns: How to Create an Effective Internship Program


Summer interns can either be a boon to your business or a burden to keep busy. You need to be prepared to get the most out of your college-aged workers over the next three months.

Some entrepreneurs don’t plan out their internship program beyond employing 20-somethings to answer phones or go on coffee runs. Big mistake. A solid internship program can accomplish three main goals:

  1. Provide a learning experience for the summer interns
  2. Add a creative spark to your brand
  3. Build your reputation beyond your typical marketing outreach.

For every plus, however there are some pitfalls. Plenty of companies are currently being sued for mishandling their internships. Here’s how to ramp up your program and avoid these perils.

1. Build reliable sourcing relationships

Ever posted an internship opportunity on Craigslist? It attracts a mixed bag of the qualified, the unqualified, and the weird. Instead of posting on a major website that attracts a wide swath of applicants, rely on a few unique and well-vetted sources to send you top-notch talent.

Contact a local university and get in touch with the department that most closely matches your industry. The dean or student affairs representative will have plenty of eager students to send your way. If you opt for a smaller college over a larger university, the faculty will probably be more responsive to your request.

Post your internship on your social media accounts. Applicants who already follow your Twitter or Facebook feed are apt to be engaged with your brand.

2. Plan your summer intern program

The intern lawsuits that cropped up against companies like Fox Searchlight and SiriusXM largely came because the companies were using the summer interns as low-level employees instead of providing a learning experience. Small businesses frequently forget how much oversight an internship program requires to ensure interns’ duties don’t devolve into unpaid office assistant work.

It’s critical to create a binder or cloud-based document that outlines both the daily tasks and major projects an intern is expected to accomplish over the summer. It’s a small-time investment that will allow you to tweak the program annually instead of inventing it from scratch each year. The binder or cloud document should include everything from the banal, like how to answer the phones or mail a package, to the complex, like how to update the website or engage with customers on social media.

3. Provide mentorship to your summer interns

Set aside at least one to two hours of your time each week to spend with your summer interns, or rotate that effort through high-ranking members of your team. Interns have questions about your industry, and they expect to get more out of their experience with your company than if they had gone to work for minimum wage at Applebee’s or Gap.

Make sure you’re engaged during the time allotted to your summer interns: Don’t field questions while answering emails or in-between conference calls. Consider setting up a weekly lunch. You might be surprised by how much you learn about the future of your industry from these up-and-comers.

4. Plan to provide pay, a job, or an awesome reference

Too many internships end with barely more than a “thanks for your effort”. While the summer interns are certainly grateful for the experience, they want something in return. Plan to pay them for their time or provide them with a path to employment either at your office or with another employer.

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Tags: Business GrowthHuman Resources