Successful Student Internship Strategies For Businesses: What You Need To Know

16 March 2016
 Categories: , Articles


Internships can be an amazing way for students and apprentices to grow into any given role, if handled correctly. It's also a fantastic way for businesses to gain access to fresh, new talent with unique and highly sought-after skillsets. But running a successful student internship program isn't as simple as just hiring interns and setting them loose; success is often directly related to the overall quality of your program and successful internship strategies. In this guide, you'll learn why it's important to cultivate a supportive and successful student internship program and how you can go about doing so.

Why a Successful Internship Program Benefits Your Business

If your business has decided to create or revamp a student internship, understand that creating a successful program isn't just beneficial for the student--it's beneficial for you and your bottom line, too. Interns can offer a wealth of talent and easy access to fresh perspectives, but only if they are given the tools they need to succeed. 

If student interns aren't given the right tools, results will suffer. That can impact your business directly, holding back projects or costing you clients.

Supportive, Individualized Feedback

Feedback is a crucial part of any internship program in any industry. As student interns are effectively still learning, your individualized feedback can go a long way to ensuring better results for both the student and your business.

It can be tempting to think of your interns as a "program" or "group," simply for the sake of saving time. This sounds logical, but in a situation like this, it's actually counter-intuitive.

The problem with internships that focus on giving guidance and instruction only in groups is that doing so doesn't take into consideration any single individual's strengths and weaknesses, nor does it consider individual learning styles. Things can get "lost in translation" or misunderstood, giving rise to costly mistakes.

When problems occur, feedback or criticism should be given one-on-one as quickly as possible. Probe the student to find out what it is they are struggling with, what they need, and how you can best support them in overcoming the problem. The faster you can both correct the problem, the faster you will get the results you want from the intern in question.

How to Give Good Feedback

Keep your feedback constructive, and try to make sure that your negative feedback never outweighs the positive whenever possible. Be clear and direct; don't speak from a place of emotion.

Raising your voice, criticizing your interns in front of their peers, or being passive-aggressive won't do anything but erode the intern's confidence--something that can, in and of itself, directly impact performance and results.

Valuing Your Interns

It's tempting to fall into the trap of seeing an internship program as "just free work." If this is the mindset you're moving forward with, you should know that you are moving forward for all the wrong reasons. The tides are turning against this mindset. Many people now see free internships as unethical and even immoral. That's a potential public relations nightmare no business wants to tangle with, especially in today's social-media-driven society.

Always remember that interns are not volunteers, nor are they grunt workers. If you treat them like a free secretary or coffee fetcher, they aren't likely to find the program very valuable, nor will they learn and grow.

If the word gets out that your program is little more than an attempt at free work, your business may have difficulty attracting new talent.

How to Value Your Interns

Assign your student interns real-world tasks, taking care to ensure that they are as industry-specific and relevant as possible. Give them responsibility as you can, and increase that responsibility as they show success. Listen to their ideas, and work them into your business whenever it is reasonable or feasible to do so--that fresh perspective can be extremely enlightening.

Providing Value to Student Interns (It's Not Just the Money)

Just as you must value and respect your interns, you must also provide value to them if you want them to be motivated and driven to succeed.

Certainly, one of the best ways to provide value is via a stipend or salary, but this isn't always feasible. If you can't afford to grant your interns monetary payments, you must implement value in other ways if you want to stay competitive enough to attract the best of the best. Thankfully, there are an endless number of ways to provide that value.

Offering a flexible working schedule, the ability to work from home from time-to-time, health benefits, or the ability to work with and partner with industry experts can make your program significantly more attractive to talented students. Consider which of these options work best for your company, and work as many in as you can.

Determining Value

If you're not sure whether your program is currently providing value to interns, it's time to re-evaluate. Ask yourself:

  • How are they benefiting from the program?
  • Are they simply providing free work in exchange for experience?
  • Is that experience rich enough to help them to learn, grow and expand skillsets?
  • What exactly are they learning? Is it industry-specific?
  • Does your program provide significant career benefits?
  • Is your program set up in such a way that students can feasibly excel, producing excellent results?

Of course, the most common way that businesses provide value to interns is by hiring them at the end of the term. Whenever possible, this should be your ultimate goal. Research has shown that conversion rates for interns who succeed may be as high as nearly 60 percent, and program value will impact motivation, and thus, overall success.

Cultivating a successful internship strategy for your business isn't always easy, but it can absolutely be worthwhile. Businesses and interns can and should form a symbiotic relationship during any successful program--you scratch their back, and they'll scratch yours. Providing your student interns with support and value will ensure that they have what they need to succeed, meaning better results for both you and your business.