to build a good internship program
Forget all the
intern jokes. If you're having trouble finding good help, student interns can
fill the need.
Traditionally, student internships have been
the province of big business and viewed as school-to-work programs meant to groom
future employees. With the labor market as tight as it has been recently, small
businesses are finding that interns can plug holes in their staffing.
offer businesses an enthusiastic pool of fresh talent, eager for meaningful experience
to fill their fledgling resumes and prepare them for their careers.
going to learn the basics and fundamentals in school, but nothing compares to
hands-on experience," says Geoff Gorvin, public relations manager at Russell &
Herder, a Minnesota-based ad agency with a staff of 65.
notice the work piling up when I'm between interns," says Gorvin, who developed
his department's year-round internship program two years ago. "When they come,
the workload decreases dramatically."
he needs interns because "we just don't have the resources to hire somebody full
time as an administrative assistant."
"an internship should not be free labor or low-cost labor just to do grunt work,"
warns Linda Segall, editorial director for human resources products at LRP Publications
in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. "It has to be a learning experience for the student
as well as a production improvement experience for the company."
agrees. "One of the things we really want to emphasize when they come in is they're
not here just to make copies and make coffee and staple and collate," he says.
"They're actually doing public relations tasks."
Students share information on
good and bad internship experiences, so in order to keep that flow of recruits
coming, a company needs to provide a true learning experience.
"Students want to do something challenging, something that will stretch their
abilities," says Ron Urwongse, a junior at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Urwongse helped develop Internreview.com, a Web site where students grade internships.
reviews sent to the site have been about evenly split between good and bad experiences,
What tops the list of complaints?
"Boredom, lack of things to do, and often the
things that students are asked to do are menial tasks and they're not actually
After real-world experience
and salary, interns are interested in perks and environment. For instance, Urwongse
says the key requirement for his next internship will be location because he'd
like to experience a city like New York or San Francisco.
own experience as an intern was good, Urwongse says, because he was given real
tasks and because his supervisors were always available to provide guidance.
stresses Urwongse's last point: "You will have to work with the students."
one of her former companies, she recalls an engineering manager who had no time
for his department's intern.
"It was a lose-lose
The situation could have been salvaged
if he had delegated the task of supervising the student to one of his junior engineers,
One of the big mistakes that companies
make, she says, is putting the responsibility for internships in a central area,
like the human resources department.
run an internship program effectively . . . because the HR person cannot direct
the day-to-day work flow," she says.
So one of
the first questions you need to ask in developing your internship program is whether
you have the resources to provide the teaching and supervision that will make
the program worthwhile for students.
that's not as daunting a task as it seems.
really like the idea of being given a lot of responsibility and accountability
-- a lot of leash," Gorvin says.
"You need to
work hard to give them as much direction and responsibility right off the bat,"
he says. After that, "guide them more than micromanage them."
Gorvin likes to give his students an entire project to manage with real decision-making
power. "I tell them, 'Structure this and tell me how you'll do it.'"
How do you know your students
will be able to handle a long leash? You should know their capabilities by the
time your bring them on board.
are your employees as well as your students, which means you'll have them apply
for the position.
"It's exactly the same as talking
to a person who wants a job," Gorvin says. "I ask for a resume and cover letter,"
which he says screens out all but the most serious students.
he interviews them and asks to see samples from any projects they've done.
To begin your own internship program, Segall says, "You have to assess the job
that has to be done. What kind of skills and knowledge is it going to take to
get this done?"
And you'll decide whether those
skills and knowledge can be expected of interns. Essentially, you'll be writing
a job description for them.
You'll also want to
decide the pay scale. This can be a juggling act, Segall says, recalling one firm
where "we were probably paying interns too much compared with entry-level employees."
Avoid the tendency to treat interns like kings
and queens with pay and perks, she says.
should always set out realistic expectations for them."
Then, you'll want to recruit by contacting local high schools, colleges and
universities -- or even from schools across the country if you have a summer internship
(a time when most students are free to travel to a faraway position).
school will have its own protocols to follow and paperwork for you to complete,
"If this is an internship for credit,
there will be a certain amount of paperwork upfront and at the end that I need
to do, basically grading the students," Gorvin says. "Other students are doing
it just for the experience, and all they need is a letter of reference."
head of the internship program at one college with which Gorvin works closely
actually visits the agency during the internship to meet with the student and
Gorvin, individually and then in tandem.
meetings are essential because they provide feedback to improve the program, Segall
says. "You want to get feedback, because you want to make sure your program's
a successful one."
"It's an educational experience
for us as much as it is for them," Gorvin says of the comments he gets from students
at the end of their internships. He specifically asks them what they find useful
and useless. "They help us structure the program for the next person."