5 Lessons: How to Create a Great Internship Program

Unpaid internship programs revolve around an educational experience that’s really more like an extension of in-school training. Stray from this, and you could get yourself into legal trouble.

So how do you go about creating a great internship program that’s educational AND worthwhile for you as a business owner?

creating a great internship program

There are many, many pieces that go into creating a great internship program, but today, I wanted to focus on five.

Provide Real World Experience

Internships should never be all about fetching coffee or running personal errands. An intern is not your personal assistant—he or she is there to learn. Providing real world experience lies at the core of a great internship.

Now, real world experience will depend on the industry you’re in—but it always means giving an intern the chance to earn some experience they can actually pull from in a real-life job.

For example: If you have a video production company, you’d want your interns to sit along side you and learn the process, and then to get hands-on with some editing of their own, work the cameras, etc.

They should never be there to just pick up your dry-cleaning.

Respond to Applicants Who’ve Done the Homework

You probably won’t be able to give an internship to every applicant who applies. But when you come across one that’s really done the homework—give him or her a response. They took the time to learn about you, so at least thank them for the interest.

If you can do that for every applicant—that’s great. But if not, take a moment to get back to the people who created a thoughtful message when they tried to connect with you. After all, you might need to call on them at a later date.

Be Real

Too often, interviewers pump up or play down formality during the interview process—and that can start the working relationship off on the wrong foot.

Ditch the hyper-professional or “trying to be hip” interview and instead just be who you are from the very beginning so your intern understands the true office culture. A misleading interview can lead to friction down the road.

Assign a Mentor

Mentors offer your interns a home base and a place to touch base with whenever they have questions. It also means someone has been assigned to checking in with them and making sure they are on task.

The other side of a mentor is the relationship building opportunity that can extend past the internship period. Mentors can work with their mentees long after the internship has ended—and become an extremely valuable asset.

Tease Out Specific Interests

In order for both you and your intern to get the most out of the program, you’ll need to find out where your intern’s true interests lie. Ask questions and give your intern the creative courage he or she needs to explore and learn more freely.

Letting your intern invest more time into the things he or she really cares about often produces better quality work and allows them to lead projects that they can showcase later while applying for jobs.

Learning for Both Parties

These five lessons are just the beginning. But if you can start here and learn from the experience as much as you hope your interns will, you’ll find ways to perfect the process over time.

What advice do you have for creating a great internship program?

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Gregg Jaffe

Gregg Jaffe is the owner and creative director of Big Teeth Productions, a Chicago creative production studio that produces highly watchable video content. At one time or another he has been a radio DJ, ad agency flack, bartender, swim champion (at camp, age 11), bus driver, camp counselor, dog whisperer, director, editor, lover of pizza, and all-around regular guy. He has a wife, a couple of kids, a few guitars, too many Apple products and two pairs of Adidas. Find him on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

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