Keys To A Successful Intern Program By Melanie McNary, SPHR

Melanie McNary, SPHR, is a Vice President of Human Resources with Protective Life in Birmingham

Developing and running a successful intern program involves much more than just calling a school and telling them to send over some intern candidates. Whether you are targeting high school or college students, careful thought, planning, relationship building and preparation are necessary if you want to avoid wasting time and money while realizing the short and long term benefits of being able to “try before you buy” entry-level talent. Here are some of my lessons learned in the course of managing intern programs:

  1. Gain support for the program from your senior leadership. Ensure they understand the value of building this pipeline of talent.
  2. If you are recruiting from out of town, consider budgeting for your interns’ housing expense. Housing can be a deciding factor when an intern is making the decision to accept your internship.
  3. Build relationships with students and establish employment branding across your targeted schools so their career services staff send you the best and brightest talent for your program.
  4. Seventy-five to eighty percent of your interns should be graduating within the next year so you have good availability for full-time hires.
  5. Your intern candidates should know your process and timeline. Create a project plan that includes a timeline for sourcing, manager interviews, offers, background checks. Follow up closely during your process. You can risk losing talented candidates if you let them hang out too long without communication.
  6. Hiring managers should create “Learning Agreements” in advance to ensure your interns have meaningful tasks and projects that contribute to the organizational goals. Menial tasks are a part of all of our jobs but should be limited for your interns.
  7. Ensure interns have an opportunity to meet senior executives and network with other leaders across the company. Bringing interns together weekly over breakfast or lunch for business presentations is a great opportunity. Include a formal orientation with a senior executive welcome and an end of program luncheon with your CEO.
  8. Find opportunities to rotate your interns through different departments for greater exposure and experience. A cross functional project for the intern group would be meaningful.
  9. Partner with local business associations to attend events as a group within the city after hours to showcase your city and allow interns to network with each other.
  10. Create a formal process for obtaining feedback on your program from your interns and hiring managers so you can improve the program each year. Share the feedback from your interns with your hiring managers. Ensure managers give interns feedback on their performance for their development.
  11. Finally, ask your managers to commit to hiring a certain number of interns who perform successfully. If you hire the best and brightest convincing them to plan for hires will be easier. Also, intern candidates will ask how many interns are hired full time since that will be their goal when they graduate. Interns can be a great source of future talent for your organization. A well designed and actively managed program can ensure your intern investment pays off, both in the short and long term.

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