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Tools for Creating a Winning Internship Program

Vol. 26 Issue 6

Post Categories: HR

For many companies, it’s the most wonderful time of the year: Intern Season!

As you prepare to onboard new or returning interns, keep a few things in mind to ensure the experience will be an enjoyable and productive one for all involved.


Everyone is already busy with the day-to-day business responsibilities, so hold a brief planning meeting to get your team focused on the arrival of your intern. Consider what you would like your intern to experience and work on during their time with you. Don’t plan the schedule the day your intern arrives.

A small investment in planning can yield big payoffs for interns and the team they will be working with. Avoid pointing to a stack of filing or assigning mundane tasks; the experience should be informative and balanced. Yes, filing and other routine or repetitive tasks may be part of everyone’s workday, but don’t try to make a whole day or even an entire internship about busy work. An intern is not meant to be a replacement employee. Your internship program should give participants an opportunity to align formal education and career choice with real-world experience. Launching this program also gives you a chance to assess possible future employees. You can both determine if this is a good fit.

Identify Projects

Identify a couple of short-term projects ahead of time that your intern can work on. Consider something that will last more than a couple of days but can still be completed during the time frame the intern will be with you. Don’t assign something that is urgent or a “must have” since the intern may not have the knowledge and experience to complete the work. Consider assigning research or an “if we had time” project since the intern is an additional resource who can help with back burner projects the core team can’t get to.

Assign a Supervisor or Mentor

An intern will likely have more questions and need more guidance since he or she will not have a great deal of company knowledge to pull from. This is also a great opportunity for a new supervisor, or an experienced team member, who wants to develop supervisory skills.

Details, Details, Details

Finally, be sure you have worked out all the details surrounding scheduling, attire, conduct and pay. In general, regulations surrounding intern employment is driven at the federal level through Department of Labor (DOL) guidelines. Although most internships should be paid, the following is a snapshot of factors to consider in determining if your intern should be compensated.

Size of your company // Larger companies may be subject to more scrutiny and often have the means to pay interns, so it is encouraged that you do so.

Company benefits from work performed // Unless the internship is purely educational and for the intern to acquire knowledge, the intern must be paid if your company benefits from the work performed.

Incurred expenses // If your intern will incur travel and living expenses to participate in your program, it is recommended to pay the participant to create a more positive experience.

Although pay is not usually a deciding factor for most interns, it may be a legal concern for your company if not handled appropriately. Consult your HR professional or visit the DOL website for the most up-to-date information to help guide your decision on pay.