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5 Tips That Will Set Your Internship Program Apart

According to the 2022 Internship & Co-op Survey Report released by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, internship hiring was expected to increase by 22.6 percent, which is great news for students looking for opportunities to sharpen their skills so they can better compete in the marketplace. However, it also means that employers are tasked with competing for interns, especially since interns oftentimes can become candidates for entry-level positions later on. To become attractive to early in career talent, you have to have a strong employer brand and an internship program that will pique students’ interest. The following are tips to develop an internship program that will set you apart from other companies vying for the same students.

1. Be Selective 

In order to attract the best talent to your internship program, and ensure that you have a strong applicant pool for future positions, you want to make it as selective as possible. You wouldn't just look for a warm body when recruiting for a regular position, so you need to be equally selective when looking for interns. During the hiring process, you might want to ask students to provide work samples to get an idea of what they're capable of. Also, ask questions to find out their goals and what they hope to get out of an internship. Find out what prospective interns are passionate about and if they can see themselves working for your company full time at some point. Making the selection process rigorous will weed out people who want an internship just for the sake of having one, so you’re left with those who can really be strong contributors to your organization in the long term.

2. Provide Real Work

If you just want somebody to make coffee and run errands, you're not going to attract strong interns. With all of the options out there today, it’s important to keep in mind that interns want something meaningful to help them learn and grow as professionals—and if that’s not what your internship program is offering, you can bet that another one will. That's why you need to give your interns a real work experience that will develop them, not just busy work that will help them pass the time as they learn nothing. 

A good internship has goals and expectations established ahead of time, so students are not treated like cheap labor and instead appreciated as the budding professionals they actually are. Think about what you want interns to accomplish during their time with you, how their progress will be measured, and what support you’ll offer to help them succeed.

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3. Focus on Training

Students participate in internships because they want to learn skills that will make them successful in their career. To help your internship stand out, you should incorporate training into the program, so people are given opportunities to gain knowledge and skills over and above what they learn from their assigned tasks. You can have students shadow employees working in their areas of interest, provide mentorship, give them access to on-site classes, and organize learning sessions with company leaders. Activities like these will enhance interns’ skills as you demonstrate that you care about developing early in career talent—which will benefit you both in the long-term if interns are considering working for your company after graduation.

4. Open an Honest Dialogue

As an internship is ending, spend time with students to let them know how they did, and their chances of landing a full-time position at your organization. Were your expectations met? Were there areas where interns especially excelled? Did they meet the goals set forth at the beginning of the program? Have an honest conversation with interns about their performance and what they could have done better so they’re truly able to learn from the experience.

In addition, be sure to ask the interns questions about their impression of your business. Did they feel like they were given enough opportunities to learn? Were they satisfied with the tasks they were assigned? What is their general impression about your company's culture and how much you would appeal to early in career talent?

By opening an honest dialogue, you get to provide interns with important feedback that can help them sharpen their skills, as well as receive information that will help you improve your internship program.

5. Stay in Touch

After an internship is over, the last thing you want to do is send students on their merry way without any further engagement. Keep in touch with them by providing information about what's going on in your company, as well as finding out how they're doing. Even if they don't end up applying for a job right after graduation, they may still become candidates down the road, or may recommend your company to their peers—so make sure that the connection you built during the internship is nurtured.

With so many companies planning on increasing opportunities for interns, it's important to make your program stand out from the rest. These tips can help you create an impactful internship that trains students to become the type of workers you want to hire.

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