two people shaking hands

5 Ways to Build a Successful Internship Program

Not everyone can flaunt a starting hourly rate of $120 for incoming interns as Citadel does. You might be wondering what else you can do to attract top talent through your organizations internship program. These qualified candidates all have the potential to become the next leaders of your organization – thus making it an important aspect of organizational growth. So what can you do instead to attract, develop, and retain top talent? 

Why Have a Program?

The business world is a perpetually changing environment and a company’s success relies on their ability to adapt. Whether these changes stem from internal or external sources, a reliable method to remain prepared is to continually recruit new & capable talent. Whether it’s to provide your current workforce mentorship opportunities, see new perspectives, or expand your potential talent pool, developing a strong internship program will position your business to navigate an everchanging world. 

1. Structure Learning & Development Opportunities

To curate a successful internship program, it is crucial to provide interns with structured learning and development opportunities. While you want to see interns take ownership of their own learning and express curiosity, you also want to establish a minimum level of knowledge for them to have the opportunity to succeed.

Recall the beginning of your journey and the mistakes that were made early on in your career. You’ve since grown from these mistakes and they have become valuable lessons that pushed you to where you are today. Likewise, you want to encourage interns to feel comfortable leaning into the unknown and help them grow from mistakes rather than punish them. 

Creating this space means incorporating set touchpoints that encompasses mentorship, training sessions, and exposure to different aspects of the organization. Through ensuring the program includes a balance of hands-on projects, workshops, and learning resources, you will provide the perfect amount of agency over their own growth while ensuring they meet expectations.

Example Opportunities:
  • Weekly 1:1
  • Mid-internship Performance Review
  • Project Review Session

2. Give Meaningful Projects & Work

Internships should be more than just fetching coffee or performing mundane tasks. If you’ve found great talent then you want to develop their skillsets such that they will propel your business once brought on full time. Assigning them real responsibilities that align with the organization’s goals not only keeps them engaged but also allows them to develop and showcase their skills. 

As it relates to development, you should conduct reviews after each meaningful project they complete. Delivering timely feedback creates an open environment for continued improvement and trust. Aside from hard skills, you want to show interns that developing open communication is just as important as being able to complete the assigned work. 

3. Provide Continuous Feedback & Evaluation

Approaching feedback the proper way can feel daunting. You don’t want to crush an intern’s confidence by being too harsh and you understand the value that good feedback provides. Aside from creating regular touchpoints, you should train any stakeholders of the internship program on the proper approach to delivering feedback to interns.

This is not a replacement for a formal evaluation process, such as mid-term and final reviews, but rather a step to maintain open communication throughout the internship program. An ideal world is one where you have created a supportive environment where interns feel comfortable seeking feedback. By prioritizing continuous feedback and evaluation, you contribute to their development, enhance their learning experience, and set them up for future success.

In giving feedback, consider making your feedback specific and actionable. This is often achieved through providing specific examples relevant to their most recent task. The desired outcome is for the intern to grow in the relevant area, so structure your conversations such that each party feels that feedback is approached through a lens of improvement, not criticism. This is often achieved through phrasing feedback as a question to at the beginning of a conversation as to make the intern an active participant in the solution.

Phrasing Constructive Feedback:
  • When all aspects of a project have not been considered:

          “What other supports are required?”

  • Delivering post-project feedback

          “This time you did x, how do you think the outcome would have changed if you had

           instead used y approach for this project?”

  • If a project is not progressing as expected

          “Would you let me know what challenges you are facing, that I can support you with?”

4. Pay Fairly

While it seems like a given, plenty of opportunities are posted that actively advertise as non-paid internships. With inflation rising year after year, it is almost impossible to justify not compensating interns for 6-10 weeks of their time.

Ask yourself the following:

  • Does the intern accelerate the timeline of an existing workstream?
  • Am I utilizing an interns deliverable in business practice?
  • Is the intern providing any insight into the current market?
  • Are you paying everyone else that enters your building?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you know what to do for your interns.

The next component is are you paying fair market rates? Do a quick search and see what other similar positions are offering for the same time commitment you’re asking for. The amount you’re offering should directly correlate to the entry level position that you would expect an intern to join at after completion of the program. Paying interns fairly acknowledges their contributions and provides them with a sense of value and motivation. Fair pay demonstrates your commitment to treating interns as valuable team members – an indispensable outlook if you’re hoping to retain your talent pool

5. Remain in Contact After Program Concludes

Lastly, a strong internship program extends beyond the duration of the program. By remaining in contact with former interns you create a network of talented professionals who can become brand advocates, potential hires, or valuable industry connections

More importantly, think of this as a way to practice what you preach – you’re showing them how to enact soft skills & manage business relationships. Remaining in contact after the program concludes shows your genuine interest in their success and fosters long-term relationships.

Some ways to remain in contact are to regularly reach out to check on their progress, provide career guidance, or share relevant opportunities or industry updates. Offer mentorship beyond the internship period and consider inviting them back for special events or as guest speakers. 

Closing Thoughts

Developing a cohesive internship program is a rewarding task. If done properly, you have successfully introduced a new class of capable individuals into the working world. A successful program incorporates all the points we’ve touched on and most importantly – considers each intern with as much respect that you carry towards the rest of your workforce. At the end of their experience, they will have learned how to operate in a working environment and will thank you for the invaluable lessons they learned along the way.

We would love to hear about your internship program best practices! If you think we missed any key tenets or simply want us to elaborate on a given point, let us know in the comments below. Otherwise, enjoy the responsibility of introducing the next generation of leaders. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Get all latest news in marketing and technology.