Does your company sponsor internships?  If so, why? And if yours doesn’t, why not? Here’s everything you should keep in mind during the process for mutual success.

Internships are NOT about getting coffee and donuts, running errands or busy work.  The National Association of Colleges and Employers provides these guidelines for internships.  Most soon-to-be college graduates want to participate in internships to provide “real-world” experience for their resumes, hoping that it will help them get their first job after graduation.  Many companies offer internships hoping to scout prospective talent before it reaches the job pool. Some companies even develop academic/professional partnerships with colleges and universities to ensure they get to “pick from the tree, not from the barrel.”

But if scouting potential talent is the only reason your company offers internships, then you’re missing out on the many benefits internships offer to your current employees.  And if your company doesn’t offer internships, here are some reasons why you should consider offering them.

If you’ve read even a few management articles or books, you’ll know that the number one biggest cost for most employers is employee turnover.  When an employee leaves, experience, time, morale and ultimately lots of money to recruit and train their replacement leave with them. And even if you provide a great salary and benefits, your best people will eventually leave if they don’t have opportunities to grow professionally.  And internships can provide some of those additional opportunities.

Hiring an intern follows all of the same steps as hiring for any full-time or part-time positions.  So instead of doing those steps yourself, assign them to your team to gain leadership experiences.

There needs to be a description of the internship that includes the time frame, what skills are needed, what skills are nice to have, how to apply, and a blurb to upsell your company.  Plus, you need to post the internship, usually through a university’s career development department. Most universities have internship and job posting platforms, like Handshake, but some introductory emails, follow-up phone calls and even an on-site visit will build a better relationship with your partner schools.

After that, applications and resumes need reviewing and communications need to be sent.  Our company’s hiring process involves an initial phone screening and candidates that make it past the phone screen are asked to an in-person interview, so conference rooms and meetings need to be scheduled.  Interview questions and any tests need to be developed, administered and scored. And all of this needs to be collected in an easily digestible fashion to decide to whom you will extend your offer (and one or two back-ups, in case your first choice declines the invitation).

Once a candidate accepts, all of the standard on-boarding, orientation and training activities need to happen exactly as you would on board a full-time new hire. 

All interns receive an overview of what we do as a Company, documentation on the many concepts and acronyms, and then specific orientation by team (Technology, Quality, Marketing, etc.).  There are specific goals for Communication Skills, such as the tools we use, what are formal vs. informal communication methods and when to use them based on understanding the audience to which the communication is directed.  There are Context Building exercises, to help learn the inter-team, intra-team and extra-team dynamics, including high-level business stakeholders. And finally the specifics of the work, which can take the form of over-the-shoulder observations, peer work or individual work.  A sampling of internal and external resources is provided and interns are encouraged to seek out additional resources and present them to the team.

Throughout the internship, regular one-on-one meetings review the internship goals and progress, as well as offer insights into interviewing for “real” jobs, understanding career trajectory, and evaluating potential employers and the benefits they offer.  At the end of the internship, candidates must give a presentation about their internship experience, including feedback on areas that they wished they had more experiences, areas that they felt needed less emphasis, and experiences they did not receive, but would have liked.

Internships provide many opportunities for your team to get out of their daily routine and perform leadership tasks for which they would not normally be responsible.  The experiences provided can help them grow professionally, and the more experienced they get, the more you can keep them growing, ideally, into the next leadership opportunity your company provides.  And, if the stars align, you may also find your next new hire.