An internship programme is a good way to evaluate potential employees; establish ties and a recruiting edge with your local community, and generate conversations about your company, as the intern you bring on will likely become a “brand ambassador”.

However, don’t use interns to do the work normally done by skilled employees – even if it looks like a good way to supplement your workforce and save money. Interns don’t perform at the same level as veteran workers, and the coaching and mentoring they require takes time away from veteran workers and managers.

Who benefits from an internship programme?

The chief beneficiaries of internship programmes are the interns. The work that an intern accomplishes for you is offset by the planning, training, supervising, coaching and extra work that goes into creating a positive experience for both the intern and your company.

Running an internship programme can be a rewarding experience if your motivation is to give a student the opportunity to explore career options and practise their business skills.

Here are 12 steps to building an internship programme that works for both employers and interns.

1. Write a job description

This will help you understand how you will use your intern and what you want them to do. It will also give your intern a clear sense of direction, responsibilities and goals.

2. Set beginning and end dates

Defined dates will help the intern schedule and plan their life. Take account of the term dates of local universities or colleges, and your chosen intern’s exam schedule.

Mark the end of the internship with a formal closure such as an exit interview, an evaluation or just a nice thank-you lunch.

3. Create an intern manual

Many interns have no previous experience of an office environment or office decorum and etiquette. So give your interns a training manual that brings them up to speed on what’s expected and how things are done in your company. The manual should include:

If you have neither a manual nor the time to create one, produce a one-page handout of your most important policies and expectations.

4. Recruit and interview

Publicise internship positions on your own company website, on job boards and through the internship or career offices of local schools, colleges and universities. These often have an internship coordinator who can match students with employers.

Interview the candidates and put them through a hiring process similar to the one for employee candidates. This is good experience for the intern and helps you select a candidate who might make a good hire once their internship is completed.

5. Predefine the selection criteria

Predefine the decision-making criteria and process for securing interns. This forestalls any undue influence from employees or board directors sending their nieces and nephews “to be considered”. If an intern is subject to bias or influence from relatives, it is difficult for a manager to objectively manage them, or indeed fire them if necessary. It can also put the intern under too much – or sometimes too little – pressure to perform.

6. Reserve a cubicle or workstation

Interns need a dedicated place to work, and – unless the job is manual labour – a computer, a company email address, a login to access your network, and a phone.

7. On-board your interns

Set aside a day or two of on-boarding activities. Arrange for your interns to meet with each employee they’re likely to interact with, and familiarise them with the company’s processes, systems and culture.

8. Pay your interns

There are two good reasons why you should pay your interns:

You may not need to pay an intern who is a student getting course credit for the internship, but it’s best to seek legal advice about this.

9. Assign one person to manage the intern

Interns require more supervision than employees. When they don’t get the guidance they need, they often choose to be unproductive rather than risk making mistakes. The best manager for an intern is an experienced employee who is accessible throughout the day.

10. Give your interns meaningful work

Interns want responsibilities, not just tasks. Tasks are one-time, short assignments such as photocopying or filing. Responsibilities are long-term areas of ownership or projects. Interns want to feel that they are making a meaningful contribution and to have something to show for their efforts.

Include your interns in meetings relating to their team, department or projects. This makes them feel valued and gives them an insight into how corporate decisions and compromises are made.

11. Set your expectations

Intern perfection is rare. Set your expectations fairly and be prepared for inconsistency in the quality of their work and the occasional mishap. Use the rough episodes to help the intern to develop personally and professionally. And never rely on an intern to complete a critical project or one with a tight deadline.

12. Write a letter of recommendation

This is your final obligation once the internship is completed.

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