By Nathan Parcells
Not all internship programs are created equal. And I’m not just talking about the vast differences between the intern perks at big-name companies in comparison to startups. Are your interns really receiving a stellar experience by taking part in your internship program?
With more companies taking on interns every year, the rise of the less-than-positive internship experiences is seemingly inevitable. Many students take on internships to immerse themselves in their future career field and gain hands-on experience outside of their college curriculum, only to find they’re undervalued, mismanaged, and uncompensated. The long-term effects of poor internship programs don’t bode well for employers or students.
With social media and review websites like InternshipRatings.com, it’s become easier than ever for interns to share their poor internship experiences with the world. Before you post your next internship opportunity, take a deeper look at what you’re really offering students.
Here are 10 warning signs your internship program needs to head back to the drawing board:
1. You lack a fun intern culture. When was the last time your interns did something outside of regularly scheduled work? Stop scratching your head — it’s time to incorporate some fun into your internship program. There are a number of creative activities, events, and outings you can provide your interns.
Rather than loading up your intern class for a trip to a baseball game, take a look at your company culture and see what kind of activities and events fit into your organization’s values and vision. Does your company culture encompass a love for the outdoors? Consider a relatively inexpensive team-building trip to the woods. Or you could take a lesson from The Weather Channel, which let their interns challenge Twitter users to blow them away with a tweet-powered fan during the TV channel’s famed Tornado Week.
2. You forget your interns have personal lives. Yes, your interns have a life outside of your office. Recently, InternMatch was on Berkeley’s campus for a career fair and interviewed every student who visited our booth about their top considerations when accepting an internship. Over 50 percent said that timing with their class schedule and extracurriculars was at the top of their list.
One of the simplest ways for you to show respect for your interns is to allow them to achieve work-life balance. Your interns likely have school and another job aside from your internship. Make sure your assigned tasks and events don’t take up too much time outside of the office.
3. You don’t provide meaningful projects. Internships shouldn’t be synonymous with busy work. Put an end to coffee runs and administrative duties. If you aren’t providing your interns with meaningful, challenging assignments, you’re not only wasting their time, but also setting your company up as undervaluing its interns.
Looking for meaningful project ideas? At Salesforce, interns complete a semester-long project and pitch it to senior executives. Other companies allow their interns to build content distribution platforms, write SEO landing pages, and even monitor social media channels. Another way to create a culture of meaningful work for your interns is to inform them of how their role within the company and their projects directly impact the bottom line.
4. Your intern perks are sub par. You may not be Google, but this doesn’t mean you can’t provide your interns with some fantastic perks. Depending on your budget and company culture, these perks can range from a free meal once a week to an all-expenses paid trip to an industry conference. Providing your interns with unique perks isn’t just a great way to show how much you value them, it’s also crucial to attracting the best talent within your industry.
5. You don’t provide training opportunities. Training isn’t just for full-time employees. Your interns are with you to learn; therefore, it’s your duty to provide them with beneficial training opportunities. Allow your interns to gain training relevant to their internship position, your company, and the overall industry. If specific software training will help them during their future career, pencil this in as a mandatory portion of your internship program. Believe me, they will thank you.
6. Your interns lack supervision. Are your interns receiving an exceptional amount of guidance? Don’t push your interns down a creek without a paddle. Assign each intern a single manager who thoroughly enjoys mentoring and sharing his or her expertise with students. Feedback also goes hand-in-hand with good supervision. Your intern supervisor should be meeting with interns individually once a week to go over objectives, answer questions, and provide the necessary guidance.
7. There’s no game plan. Simply hiring an intern shouldn’t be the extent of your internship program. Do you have quantifiable weekly goals for this student? What about an intern handbook? Successful and valuable internship programs require planning, structure, and consistency. Establish a game plan for your internship program by creating a handbook including all of the need-to-know information and guidelines for your interns to succeed in their position.
8. Your interns go nameless. Do your interns have the chance to mingle with other employees and even executives? Don’t relegate your interns to the back corner of your office. Networking opportunities should be one of the most important aspects of your internship program. Make your interns part of the team by inviting them to company lunches, networking meetings, and outings, as well as introducing them to clients, coworkers, and the CEO.
9. You don’t conduct exit interviews. It’s unlikely for your internship program to grow and improve without the feedback of the people who matter most: your interns. Conduct individual exit interviews with your intern class to gain a 360-degree view of their experiences with you. If you don’t feel like your interns will divulge the negatives, provide them with a chance to take anonymous online surveys.
10. You don’t compensate your interns. Not paying your interns isn’t cool. Aside from the legal repercussions of unpaid internships, letting your interns go without pay can damage your reputation. Consider providing your interns at least minimum wage for the hours they spend with you.
Does your internship program still seem stellar? If not, utilize these tips to make the necessary improvements to provide your interns with an unmatched experience.
How does your internship program stand out from the rest?
Nathan Parcells is co-founder and CMO of InternMatch, an online platform connecting the best intern candidates and employers. Connect with Nathan and InternMatch on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.