How to Develop an Enriching Intern Program

Developing an internship program is a labor of love in and of itself but developing a program that is enriching for both the interns and the rest of your business is a whole other undertaking. The good news is that many of the facets that go into making an internship program successful align with what you would do when bringing any new person on board, which means that a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), is a resource for human resources to turn to for help with off-site HR professionals who can look at things from the outside in to really help get this program off the ground.

Figure Out Who’s In Charge
One of the first things to do when you’re planning an internship program is to determine who’s going to be in charge of it. If you’ve determined that managing the interns should be a stretch role for someone who’s never held a management position before, you’ll need to make sure that you provide them with the skills to be an effective leader. Thinking of using an existing manager? No worries – you can still give your other employees stretch roles in the form of mentorship opportunities, but they’ll need training. A PEO should have a host of training offerings that can be leveraged to prepare just about anyone for the task at hand – many of which are available as online modules that your prospective manager or mentor can do.

Craft a Job Description
Since many interns go on to become employees, you’ll want to approach your search for the ideal intern candidate in much the same way as you would approach a traditional job candidate search. Further, because there is an abundance of interns for only a select number of internship spots, you can and should be selective. This means you need to craft an actual job description that clearly outlines what you are looking for and what your expectations are, as well as a bit about the culture of your company and what sets it apart from others in the market. Stumped on where to start? A PEO will be happy to work with you to craft a job description that sets you apart from the competition and make sure that it’s posted where it will be seen by the best of the best.

Offer Orientation
Just like you would for any new employee, you need to give your intern (or interns) a formal introduction to your company. This should be a day to acquaint them to the company culture and teach them how they will fit in while providing training on how to use the computer system they’ll need in order to be successful in their role (or some combination of all of this). A PEO can assist with orientation packets, help you repackage existing training materials for a fresh audience, or even come onsite and lead the orientation.

Figure Out a Fit
One of the biggest problems with internship programs is not having a plan for what they can and should do or not having a specific project or task they are assigned to. Interns are the perfect candidates to take on special projects for departments that are already stretched thin, but you must plan it out in advance to make it work. Further, they can lend their expertise to areas of your business where others may struggle – for example, the summer is the perfect time to enhance your social media presence, reframe your marketing approach, or otherwise take a risk. A PEO can help you see where an intern might be most useful by using our employee information system to see which employees are pulling longer hours or which project code is logging the most hours and could use some extra support. Based on this data, you can quickly draft a list of projects to knock out while you have extra hands on deck.

Give Them Feedback
The younger generations – think the Millennials and the younger, flashier iGeneration – require and respond favorably to feedback. Interns are especially needy in this department because, for many, this opportunity represents the first time that they’ve been in an office environment. Therefore, how and when you provide feedback is crucial. The HR experts at PEO can guide you through this process, offering modified review schedules, rubrics for expectations, and guidance on what to do should the intern’s performance fall flat.

Stay On The Right Side Of The Law
Even though they are interns, you are still held to both state and federal employment laws regarding the time they spend at your office, perhaps even more so if they aren’t being paid. If you are a for-profit company, the US Department of Labor has outlined seven criteria under the “primary beneficiary test” that will help you to determine whether your intern is, in fact, an employee, and thus eligible for any and all privileges that might convey. We will warn you, it can be a bit murky, and that one of the rules is brand new as of last January, and it is therefore somewhat open to interpretation, but luckily, you have a PEO on your side. If there’s one thing we’re sure of it’s that we can steer you well when it comes to making this call.

Think an internship might be appropriate for your business? Reach out and we can talk you through the process a bit more and really help you ramp up to get the job done.