Provide a Successful Internship

Much of the advice we have for employers is based on the advice we give interns, only in reverse.  Whether you are getting ready to hire your first intern or you have a seasoned successful program, the tips below are good advice.

Do not forget that ODK members seeking internships have been selected for their leadership, intellect, and ability to serve.  These qualities have already been vetted by their selection in ODK; so you know the ODK internships pool is excellent.

Treat the internship like a “real” job

  • Internships are best when they include real work and real learning experiences.  Unpaid internships need to meet federal guidelines on which focus more on the educational nature of the program (U.S. Department of Labor).  These can include important work but are more useful is viewed as training and development opportunities.
  • Paid internships, while more closely linked with part-time work, still should have an educational activity.  Provide a working list of duties, immediate training to corporate culture, structured supervision, and performance feedback.  Remember although the intern is working for a paycheck the internship experience is primarily for the benefit and education of the intern.

Be open to opportunities

  • Many times interns, like other employees, join the staff with unknown talents.  Be prepared to capitalize on these talents.  The opportunity to enhance already developed skills may help the intern build confidence as well as providing boost to company effectiveness.
  • Give the intern the freedom to explore.  A completely rigid work program is easily managed, but it may not be the most educational for the intern.  Listen to suggestions the intern has about the work.  Just like full-time employees, new ideas about ways to solve problems may be out of their job description but very much in line with company goals.

Observe and learn

  • Ensure that your internship program has a foundation in the observation of the intern targeted to improve learning.  Having the supervisor and others who work with the intern observe and note behaviors and interactions – good and bad – and reporting them through a structured feedback process will aid everyone.
  • Help the intern will learn what is appropriate and what is not in the workplace.  The intern will gain valuable insight into how to adapt to new environments and how to be a productive member of a team.  The supervisor and other employees who teach the intern will continuously hone their skills at identifying the best practices for your workplace.

Fill in the holes

  • By definition, interns are incomplete professionals.  A good internships experience will not only allow them to show their best but also shine a spotlight on the areas of weakness.  Create ways to help the intern “fill the holes” in their experience by being flexible with assignments.
  • During the interview and intake process, purposely identify areas where the intern may not have experience.  Create a system for including task assignments that purposefully fill some of those holes.

Finish the job

  • Sometimes internships just don’t work out the way employers plan.  It is important that an intern leave your organization with a feeling of accomplishment and learning even if the situation was not ideal.  If the intern and job are not the right fit, see if you can find other work that can be accomplished.
  • If there really is no alternative but to end the internship early, provide plenty of notice, assess with the intern what may not have worked, and be sure to help the intern understand that in the work world, not everything is successful.

Provide contacts and references

  • Interns are professionals in training.  Someday, these young women and men may be your peers in the profession with new ideas and energy.  Add them to your contacts list.  Reach out to them for professional opportunities such as jobs, research, and conferences.  Help guide them into your profession.
  • Perhaps the most important thing an employer can do for interns – other than hiring them – is to be prepared to serve as a reference.  If as NACE research demonstrates, 50% of employers want students with internship experience, then it goes to reason they will also want to talk to someone about that experience.