How To Create A Meaningful Internship Program

By: Emily Bennington, Monster Contributing Writer

We live in a knowledge-based economy where businesses with the best talent win. And since more and more companies are relying on internships to recruit superstars at the entry-level, there’s an ever-increasing need to develop internship programs that can evaluate a candidate’s true potential.

“For us, internships have never been about bringing a bunch of college kids in to make copies and coffee,” said Rick Slater, managing member for Dixon Hughes, an accounting firm that employs 35-50 interns each summer. “We consider the program an 8-week job interview.”

Structuring Your Internship Program
Slater isn’t alone. For most organizations, the main objective of their internship program is to convert talented grads into full-time employees. However, this doesn’t have to be left to chance.

As internships have become more sophisticated, so have the strategies designed to measure their success. When starting your own program, think about how many interns you can realistically keep busy for the program’s duration.

Once you have an official head count, it’s time to develop a series of measurable benchmarks. For example:

  • Number of FTEs (full-time employees) from the program.
  • Number of evaluations per intern from project supervisors. As a rule, interns should work with multiple managers. This will give you a broad range of feedback while allowing your newer staff to test-drive their leadership skills.
  • Number of projects completed per intern. While difficult to quantify, you want to factor in a few projects that test your interns’ ability to think critically and work in teams. Of course there will be times when interns are required to “make copies and coffee,” but don’t fall into the all-too-common trap of using your interns for grunt work only. Give them a balance of meaningful work and administrative tasks and see how they handle both.

After you complete the benchmarks for your program, refer to them often to ensure you’re staying on course. “You have to keep going back to those original metrics,” said John Flato, President of the consulting firm Campus Strategic Partners. “Otherwise, how will you know if you’re succeeding?”

Finding Intern Candidates
Now that you have a skeleton in place regarding program benchmarks, it’s time to find your intern program’s candidates. Since no single approach works for everyone, the best method is to try a few different tactics and see what sticks.

Naturally, you can post available positions on sites like Monster, where they can be displayed on MonsterCollege, but you can also reach out to your local colleges and universities as well.

“Identify a handful of schools in your area and just call them up and tell them what you’re looking for,” said Ross Herosian who directs 150 interns per year at SIRIUS XM Radio. “You can also host an information session on campus. You may only have a few people show up, but those who do will be passionate about your industry.”

Career fairs are another great place to meet potential candidates, but if you don’t have the time or the budget for on-campus recruiting, you can ask faculty members for the names of their best students.

Finally, don’t forget about the power of Web 2.0 in recruiting. A dedicated “careers” webpage, Facebook profile, and Twitter account can be very influential megaphones when it comes to raising awareness of your opportunities.

Efficiently Onboarding
When it comes to orientation, the best companies have — at minimum – a series of team-building activities, a ‘basics’ overview so interns know what to expect, and an appearance by key players in their organization.

Also, don’t forget to include some good, old-fashioned Professionalism 101 training. “We take for granted that students should know how to dress and behave properly at work,” says Herosian. “But, like it or not, this is often what will teach them to know better.” 

Whether your organization has been hosting internships for decades or your program is just getting off the ground, at the end of the day, most hiring managers are in agreement that it’s one of the most powerful ways to make great new hires  — not to mention avoid a few bad ones. “I was on the phone with one of my largest clients the other day,” continued Flato, “and he told me that if he could only keep one program in his entire company, it would be the internships.” 

Author Bio
Emily Bennington
is the co-author of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job (Ten Speed Press, 2010.) She hosts the popular career blog Professional Studio 365 and is a regular contributor to and the college section of The Huffington Post. She can be reached via email at or on Twitter @EmilyBennington.