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So You Want an Intern: How to Create an Effective Internship Program

Every business owner needs help from time to time and there’s no shame in admitting that. If anything, consider needing help as a sign that your company is thriving and the extra support will help you to grow even further.

However, finding that help can be another story. Sometimes, a business is not at a place to hire a part-time employee, let alone a full-time salaried team member. That’s where interns come in. An internship program is a cost-effective way to bring in some extra hands to pick up the slack, with the added bonus of becoming a mentor to the industry professionals of the future.

It’s important to understand that many interns may not have the experience or skills you’d ideally want; however, you should consider them as a blank slate in that you can be the one to show them the ropes and train them to become better professionals on the job.

If you’re considering bringing on an intern or two, here are some tips for ensuring that your internship program is effective and meets your expectations.

Outline your expectations clearly

There’s no use going through the hiring process if you’re not sure what you need your interns to do for you. Start the way you would with any employee — with a detailed job description. This will help you to define what you’re looking for, while also giving potential interns a good look at what is expected from them. Include hours per week, length of internship, and any other logistical details that would be important for them to know.

Understand the legal considerations

Internships are different from traditional employment as they can be unpaid, but you typically need to compensate your interns in other ways like a living stipend or signing off on academic credit. In terms of academic credit, it helps to build connections with local colleges and universities. Not only will they be a great resource for pushing out your openings and finding the right fit, but they’ll also be able to provide guidance for academic requirements. Every state and locality has different labor laws, so be sure to double check the related regulations and consult with a legal advisor as needed.

Prepare a plan for onboarding

Once you find the right interns, you can’t just bring them on and expect them to get right to work. In most cases, they’re still early on in the learning process so you’ll need to be ready for a bit of handholding. A great way to support them in the initial stages is to create and provide an internship handbook. This would be a self-guided resource that gives them a run-down on your company’s story, its values, who you work with, and basic processes they’ll be expected to learn. Allot a week or two for hands-on training, which means you’ll need to take a step back from your work for a bit to coach them. Don’t worry; once they’re up-to-speed, you’ll gain that time back tenfold since they’ll be taking extra responsibilities off your plate.

Consider a pathway for growth

Not every intern will be perfect for your company, but the great thing is that internships are temporary so you aren’t bound to any one person. With that said, you ideally do want to find someone who’s a great fit for your brand and, when you do, you might want to consider bringing them into your team as an established employee. Keep an open mind and assess each of your interns’ strengths and weaknesses. If you have one that particularly stands out, it’s worth considering how you can bring them onboard (assuming they’re up for it, too!).

Interns can be a great solution for busy periods without the long-term investment, but it’s also worth using your internship program as a way to cultivate potential employees based on their successes within your company. Just know that what you get out of an internship program equates to how much you’re willing to put into it, so be prepared for the time and effort it takes to coordinate new interns.


Jennifer Taylor is the principal of Jen Taylor Consulting, a consulting firm that works with creative businesses of all sizes to implement streamlined workflows and organized systems to find more time and space for business growth and personal development. She is also the owner and founder of Taylor’d Event Group, a leading event planning company that serves local and destination clients in Washington State and Maui, HI.

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Jennifer Taylor

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