Erika Osmundson
Erika Osmundson

Editor's note: The following article was featured in the July/August issue of PorkNetwork magazine.

When you were young, did your parents ever tell you, “If you aren’t going to do it right, don’t do it at all”? Well, that principle could not apply more than to when considering the development of an internship program.

Students today are more connected and compare notes on jobs, employers and managers now more than ever. If you provide a student with a poor internship experience, you can be assured that they’ll tell everyone they know including peers, professors and career services coordinators. We all know the expression – bad news travels fast! Following are eight internship program dos and don’ts: 

#1 – DO treat recruitment for internships the same as you would a full-time hire.

Set realistic expectations for your internship program. Know going into recruiting season how many interns you would like to hire and for what positions. Also, try to forecast what types of full-time opportunities you might have available for those interns after completion of their internship and remaining schooling. That is something students will ask!

Provide all candidates with a strong experience from start to finish. Even those to whom you don’t offer a position, treat them well and follow-up with them. Remember, students talk and you want them to talk positively about any interaction they may have had with you.

#2 – DO NOT hire students for an internship and then not communicate with them until just prior to their start date.

As a lot of recruitment takes place in the fall and early spring, a large amount of time can pass from when you extend an offer to an intern and their actual start date. Be sure that you are not only practicing effective communication throughout the interview process but also after the offer is made. If a student does not hear from you in awhile they begin to wonder, ‘Is my employer not dedicated to the program?’ or worse, ‘Do I even still have a job?’

Check in with the student by phone or email every month or so. You can also send care packages around finals or holidays. Logoed attire or even non-confidential company emails are great ways to get your intern engaged in the organization early.

#3 – DO select a mentor for each intern that will be supportive, have time, and is committed to the overall success of the internship program.

When selecting mentors for your program, you are looking for someone who will help the intern feel valued; like they make a difference; and that they have fun doing so. An employee’s experience and engagement has a lot to do with the relationship he or she has with the supervisor.

An intern mentor does not have to be the student’s direct supervisor and the he/she can have more than one. Many times, the human resources representative is the one assigned to mentor on personal issues and the supervisor is assigned to mentor on work/project type responsibilities. Sometimes a mentor might be a younger employee working within the organization that can easily relate to what the student is experiencing.

#4 – DO have an on-boarding plan that is specific for each intern.

An on-boarding plan is a road map for integrating the student into the organization and what you want the student to accomplish within the first week, first month and for the entirety of the internship. On-boarding is not just about the first day. A few key things that the plan might include:

Pre-arrival communication: A communication of some sort prior to the intern’s arrival to make sure you have told them where to go and who to ask for when they arrive.

A planned ‘meet and greet:’ This is a way to welcome the student and could be a welcome banner in the reception area, a breakfast, or a small social for example.

Set objectives: Give the student objectives that are easy to obtain as well as some stretch goals. Also, get them accomplishing something right away. Give them a small project that isn’t too difficult that they can accomplish within the first week. This will give them a sense of accomplishment and contribution right off the bat. 

Evaluation plan: Be very clear and upfront with your intern about how he/she will be evaluated throughout the internship. It is recommended that you evaluate them about half-way through their time and then at the end of the internship. Of course, you want to be providing feedback frequently throughout the internship.

#5 – DO NOT wait to set-up the workspace.

Don’t wait until the day the intern is supposed to arrive to set-up a workspace. Make sure new interns have a functional computer and other necessary items, such as on-boarding paperwork, keys, etc. While it is okay to give them a little time to set-up their workspace, you don’t want them to spend their first few days hunting down the tools they need to do their job.

#6 – DO communicate expectations often and clearly.

Remember that interns are students so things that may seem common sense to you may not necessarily be common sense to them. Be clear on work hours, holidays and appropriate dress. Also be sure to articulate your expectations on the work they’ll be doing each day and what you plan to have completed by the end of their internship. Be sure that you also talk about how their accomplishments will be evaluated, as their perceptions can be very different than yours.

#7 – DO NOT let an opportunity pass you by!

If you liked the work the intern did, and you have an opportunity available to offer another internship or full time employment DO offer a position. Or, at least give them an idea of what might be available after the school year ends. Even if you say, “We don’t have anything now, but we might have a position available by May that we’d like to consider you for,” at least you are keeping the intern engaged with your organization and thinking about a full time fit. It also gives you an opportunity to assess if the student would be interested in a full time position. Keep in touch throughout the school year if you are interested in bringing them back full time or for another internship!

For those interns that you do not wish to hire full time, you can use the same phrasing, “We don’t have anything at this time and would encourage you to keep your options open as we aren’t sure there will be full time positions available within the timeframe that you will be seeking employment.”

#8 – DO provide meaningful work.

This is so critical that it has to be repeated! For your internship program to be successful and for your organization to reap the benefits of a program, you must provide a meaningful work experience that gives students a real taste of what a career in your organization would be like.

Again, an internship program can be big or small. The important thing is to evaluate your organization’s needs up front and then designate the time and resources to put together an effective program.  Hopefully these few tips provided insight into how to do that! 

Editor’s Note: Erika Osmundson is marketing and communications manager for AgCareers.com, a leading supplier of human resource services. For further information, email AgCareers.com at agcareers@agcareers.com.

For more articles and features from the July/August issue of PorkNetwork, click here.