How to run a successful internship program

in Managing by Nick Petrovic
(7 Ratings)

If you've ever found yourself needing extra help in your business, but with little funds to employ extra staff, setting up a successful internship program can be a cost-effective way of growing your team.

For someone who has recently completed or is close to completing tertiary training, the transition from theory to practice can be a difficult one. While valuable knowledge has been gained, all-important experience is essential. Internships offer a great opportunity for graduates to gain valuable experience in their chosen field while giving businesses a pool of eager and motivated team members ready to prove themselves.


Although professional internships are often unpaid arrangements, this does not mean a business should tackle the task of recruitment any more lightly than they would for paid roles. It is vital that clear job descriptions are created and specific goals determined. Advertising the role on university websites and job boards can be a good way of generating interest. Taking it a step further and aligning yourself with a college or university can make the process much easier, as they can often contact high-achieving students.

Once the recruitment phase is complete, you must ensure any relevant policies, guidelines and orientation are provided in the same professional manner as you would with paid employees.

Operational matters

In order for a business to develop a successful internship program, it must be in a state of readiness. In addition to becoming familiar with any legal or industrial requirements, a business should ensure activities are clearly planned so that your interns are sufficiently engaged.

From an intern's perspective, the most valuable asset the program can offer, especially if it is unpaid, is the opportunity to learn new skills. It is vital that you determine what level of mentoring your business is able to offer as this can be a major incentive. It can be helpful to allocate specific times for meeting with interns to not only ensure productivity, but also increase motivation. Consider allocating a senior member to oversee the intern and offer mentoring and feedback on a regular basis.

Tasks and responsibilities

While interns may not possess all the experience and expertise of other staff members, it is important they are welcomed into the business as one of the team. Avoid treating your interns as students and instead treat them as employees. Be sure to invite them to any business and networking events, and introduce them to contacts and colleagues as you would other employees.

Make the most of the enthusiasm and passion that an intern brings by assigning them real responsibilities and deadlines, rather than simply giving them jobs that you or other team members wish to avoid. Of course you will need to provide adequate briefing, especially in areas they are unfamiliar with, however many interns will appreciate clear and detailed instructions as this will give them a good indication of what is expected of them.

Taking on an intern provides many benefits for your business. Running a successful internship program, however, is about both parties advancing, so don't forget the importance of understanding your intern's expectations and what they hope to achieve. Who knows - they might even become a full-time employee in the future!

This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.

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Nick Petrovic

Nick Petrovic is a registered psychologist and head of clinic at the Mind Profile Psychology Clinic and has more than 10 years' experience in the allied health and business. Nick has contributed to regular columns in more than a dozen business magazines and newspapers, advising on issues such as mental health, work related stress, strategic planning, business analysis and human resources.

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