Employee Experience

How to build a winning internship program

6 Mins read

Knowing how to build an internship program is a necessity, as internships have evolved from being solely about grunt work. With the right program, companies can cultivate young talent and establish a pipeline for recruiting top-notch graduates. Smaller businesses can gain an advantage over larger competitors by offering valuable internships and maintaining contact with former interns.

70% of employers use internships for recruitment, 82% of students complete one internship, as reported by National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). Research indicates that companies with internship programs are more likely to retain employees since they have already been trained in the organization’s culture and practices.

Smaller companies can benefit from internships as well. A survey by the Small Business Administration found that 62% of small businesses use internships as a way to find potential employees, and 93% of small business internships are paid. Additionally, a study by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) found that students who participated in internships were more likely to secure full-time employment after graduation, with 63% of internship participants receiving at least one job offer compared to 35% of non-participants.

What is an internship?

An internship is a work experience program that provides practical training and professional development opportunities to individuals, typically students or recent graduates, seeking to gain real-world experience in their field of study or career interest. Internships can be paid or unpaid, full-time or part-time, and can range in duration from a few weeks to several months.

Interns are often assigned tasks and projects that align with their career goals, allowing them to gain hands-on experience and develop relevant skills. They may also have the opportunity to observe and learn from experienced professionals, receive feedback on their performance, and build professional networks that can help them secure future employment.

Internships are commonly offered in a wide range of industries, including business, finance, law, healthcare, technology, media, and many others. They are highly valued by employers, as they provide a cost-effective way to assess potential employees and identify future talent. 

Investing in internships can facilitate the growth of inexperienced individuals and cultivate future leaders for your company. However, to attract top talent, it is crucial to establish a well-structured program and provide fair compensation to your interns. Here’s how to build an internship program. 

Step 1: Consider your graduate programme

To answer the ‘how to build an internship program’, it’s essential to first view it as the beginning of a candidate’s journey towards joining your graduate program. Leading employers have recognized the value of integrating their internship and graduate programs, streamlining the onboarding, development, relationships, and engagement processes.

To ensure a seamless transition from internship to graduate program, envision your candidates’ journey from the moment they join your internship to the end of your graduate program. Keep in mind that their journey doesn’t end at the completion of the internship. They will return to university to finish their degree, undergo the recruitment process, go through pre-boarding and keep warm activities, and finally join the graduate program.

Therefore, it’s crucial to design and communicate with your interns throughout the internship program in a way that aligns with their ultimate career goals. Consider what skills, experiences, and insights they want to gain from the internship to help them succeed on their journey towards your graduate program. By doing so, you can increase the chances of attracting top talent and developing a strong pipeline of future leaders for your organization.

Step 2: Decide on the scope

Before building an internship program, it’s crucial to determine its scope by carefully considering your organization’s needs, resources, and budget. Answering the following questions can help you determine the feasibility and structure of your internship program:

  • Capacity: How many interns can your organization accommodate at once, and how frequently can you host them? This will depend on factors such as the size of your organization, the workload of your employees, and the resources available to support interns.
  • Supervision and workspace: Who will supervise the interns, and where will they work? It’s important to ensure that interns have a designated workspace and a clear reporting structure, and that supervisors are equipped to provide guidance, support, and feedback throughout the internship.
  • Type of work: What kind of work will the interns be doing? Consider the tasks and projects that align with your organization’s needs and offer meaningful learning opportunities for interns. This can range from research and data analysis to client management and marketing.
  • Compensation: How much will you compensate your interns? Offering fair compensation is crucial to attracting top talent and demonstrating your commitment to their development. This can include a stipend, salary, or other benefits, such as access to training and networking opportunities.
  • Target audience: Do you have a preference for new graduates or students still in school? Target audience matters, tailor strategies accordingly. Both intern groups offer unique perspectives and skills.
  • Duration: How long will the internship program last? This can range from a few weeks to several months, depending on the goals of the program and resources’ availability.
internship program

Step 3: Define goals and objectives

Establishing goals and objectives for your interns is a critical step in their development and success within your organization. According to Liz Wessel, CEO of WayUp, interns typically work on two or three significant projects during their tenure, depending on the length of the program. It’s essential to monitor their progress regularly and ensure that they have clear beginning, middle, and end to their work.

Interns who work on well-defined projects are more likely to feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from their work, leading to higher engagement and productivity. In fact, a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that interns who worked on meaningful projects were more likely to receive a job offer from the company.

Setting goals and providing meaningful work also contributes to the success of your intern program. A survey by InternMatch found that 98% of companies that offered internships reported that they helped them meet their hiring goals. By setting clear goals and objectives for your interns, you can ensure that they receive a fulfilling experience that prepares them for their future careers while also contributing to the success of your business.

Step 4: Assign an internship coordinator

When you build your internship program, it is essential to designate a point person to oversee your interns and ensure they receive a fulfilling and enriching experience. This role does not necessarily have to be a separate, full-time position, particularly for small businesses. For instance, WayUp’s internship program is managed by two coordinators who work full-time for the company. According to Liz Wessel, these coordinators dedicate approximately five hours per week to the program without impeding their full-time responsibilities.

An internship coordinator can help create a program that provides a cohesive learning experience for your interns. For example, Steven Benson, founder and CEO of Badger Maps, goes above and beyond to support and develop interns in his company. He teaches classes on business topics, offers career advice, provides job training, and assists interns in developing valuable skills. Badger Maps gives interns significant projects to work on from start to finish, enabling them to gain meaningful work experience.

By designating an internship coordinator or assigning responsibilities to existing employees, businesses can ensure that interns receive adequate guidance, support, and opportunities for professional growth. This can lead to a positive reputation for the company as a place where young talent can thrive and contribute to the organization’s success.

Step 5: Empower your interns

To help your interns grow and succeed, it’s important to provide them with regular feedback. Setting up check-ins at predetermined intervals helps keeping them informed of their progress and identify areas where they can improve. By adopting a personalized approach to learning, you enable interns to build their skills and meet expectations of jobs.

In addition to feedback, providing training in core behavioral skills can also be beneficial. This will help prepare interns for the transition from education to the workforce. It’s important to focus on skills that promote resilience, wellbeing, and a sense of belonging. By empowering interns, you help them take responsibility, which will better equip them to perform at higher level.

Overall, supporting and guiding your interns can lead to a successful and mutually beneficial experience for both parties.

Step 6: Continue your relationship

Now you know how to properly build an internship program. However, it’s important to maintain a relationship with your former interns after the internship ends. This can provide opportunities for networking, and potentially lead to new doors opening for your business. By staying in touch, you create the possibility for future reconnections. Additionally, keeping in contact with high-performing interns can allow you to consider them for a full-time position once they graduate.

An effective internship program serves as a training ground for young talent. You can use it to identify interns who are not suitable for your company and discover new talent. National Association of Colleges and Employers states that 65% of employers offering internships extend job offers to interns. Investing and maintaining relationships with your interns increases chances of retaining top talent and building a strong team.


Investing in internships can facilitate the growth of inexperienced individuals and cultivate future leaders for your company. However, to attract top talent, it is crucial to establish a well-structured program and provide fair compensation to your interns. By considering the scope, defining goals and objectives, and envisioning the intern’s journey from internship to graduate program, companies can build a strong pipeline of future leaders for their organization.

Further Reading:

Working Remotely and Productivity: Interesting Insights
Methods of Enhancing Employee Productivity
How to support employees with children: 7 ways

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About author
Fatjona Gërguri is the content writer for Employee Experience Magazine, covering the relevant topics about employee experience, organizational culture and general HR topics.
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