Human Resources, Culture

Creating a Meaningful Internship Experience

November 7, 2017

Creating a Meaningful Internship Experience

An internship is a two-way street. For the intern, it’s an opportunity to “try things on” and apply knowledge gained from hours of sitting in class each week. For the employer, it leads to enhanced perspectives, increased workflow capability, and a pipeline for top talent.

Having been an intern at organizations both small and large, operating in multiple locations, and in various industries, I’ve realized there is no one-size-fits-all approach. In all internship programs, however, it is important for organizations to incorporate their beliefs and values to the extent it feels right. Let me share some factors that led to meaningful experiences for me – and for the employer, too.

Engage during the recruiting and onboarding process

Creating an environment that makes an intern feel like part of the team early on is imperative. An intern’s impression of your organization begins before stepping into the office on the first day. Before my first day at FirstPerson, I received a package in the mail, which included company swag – a t-shirt, book, water bottle, and handwritten note from my manager welcoming me to the team. Include a list of assignments to expect. This leads into my next point.

Provide real work assignments

An intern’s work should be relevant to the position, valuable to the team, and challenging. Frequent communication between the manager and intern is vital to project success. Allow interns to soak up as much as possible during the experience.

Offer networking opportunities

This can take shape in many ways. All of my internships have offered this to a different extent. Here are a few examples:

  1. Weekly leadership lunches allow interns to gather over the lunch hour and engage with a leader from the executive ranks, which provides the opportunity to connect with achieving leaders.
  2. 1:1 meetings between an intern and a team member. This could be as easy as meeting in the break room for coffee, grabbing a conference room, or going for a walk.
  3. Providing encouragement throughout the experience exposes interns to the culture of the organization and can be a highly correlated metric to accepting a full-time offer later.

Consider flex time and/or alternative work arrangements

Flexible work schedules are the future of the workplace. For student interns, balancing academics with work and extra-curricular activities is the norm. Flexible work arrangements lead to remote assignments and opportunities to work during breaks from class. This keeps communication open and build a stronger bond.

Pair interns with a young professional mentor 

Peer mentors help interns learn more by gaining a broad range of connections within an organization. Interns will learn more about the company as a whole when they can turn to someone other than their manager for answers. Three of my five internships paired me with a peer mentor relatively close in age (within 10 years). In my experience, weekly chats and monthly lunches have worked well, but the mentor relationship can take many forms. 

Encourage team involvement

Involvement in team meetings, happy hours, speaker events, and lunch outings fosters a sense of camaraderie between interns and full-time employees. It helps interns recognize how each person contributes to the mission and goal of the team, and creates a meaningful break from the monotony of showing up in the morning, working eight hours, going home, and repeating.

Stay in touch after the internship is over

Many companies fall off the radar here, but it is vital to an internship program. Consistently stay in touch with interns if you appreciate the talent they brought to the team. Doing so can lead to another internship or a full-time role in the future. Develop a calendar with major dates (birthday, start/end of an academic year, etc.) and have key leaders reach out periodically. The out of sight, out of mind philosophy can be a costly mistake after creating a meaningful employment experience.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a successful internship program. Most importantly, make sure it feels right and does not paint a false picture of your organization. For the employers reading this, don’t let the unknown nature of starting an internship program be a deterrent. Try incorporating these tips into your existing processes, and your organization will benefit greatly from the extra set of hands – and fresh perspective – in no time.

Driving and Selling Employee Engagement