How to Create an Internship Program: 5 Tips

An intern talks during a meeting with her coworkers.

So, you’re looking for information on how to create an internship program—good for you! Companies everywhere are looking for talent and trying to build a new generation of future staff, so you know you’re not alone. Introducing internships is the first step in developing the next generation of your workforce—it’s a lot more than just a way to get your more onerous tasks accomplished. Play it right, and your program could set the tone for your whole business moving forward.

Ready to learn how to create your internship program? Let’s get started. There are five steps in every internship program setup:

  1. Identify your business needs
  2. Recruit interns
  3. Consider your legal obligations
  4. Manage your interns
  5. Evaluate and iterate

1. Identify Your Business Needs

The first step in creating your internship program, identifying your business needs, is easy enough. Results-based management means clearly defining your end goals so you can accurately create a path to achieve them.

Why do you need interns? Is this for a particular program or initiative, or are you just filling staffing needs moving forward? If the former, you can lock down budgets and timeframes at the outset. If the latter, you’re looking for a dynamic internship framework that can scale over time.

2. Recruit Interns

Recruiting interns takes a special set of considerations since you’re competing with other companies for  availability. Job fairs, hackathons, and other contests are ways to meet interns you might not otherwise encounter.

Remember: You are looking to fill a specific role, for a specific and limited amount of time, with the hopeful upshot of building a working relationship that can last past the internship itself. Within that framework, you should interview as carefully and stringently as you would your potential full-timers.

There needs to be a values fit, with clear and mutually agreed upon tasks. You’re looking for hard workers, eager learners, and future leadership potential.

3. Consider Your Legal Obligations

While most internships are paid, some interns—particularly those in an exploratory or observational role, or those who do not contribute meaningfully to work product—may legally be unpaid.

Unpaid internships are allowed under unique circumstances, determined primarily by whether the intern (and not the employer) is the primary beneficiary of the arrangement.

While state laws regarding internship programs may vary, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) employs a 7-step test to decide whether interns are entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay. Among other considerations, this test determines the extent to which an internship program “provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment” and whether the intern’s work “complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees.”

4. Manage Your Interns 

A successful internship program should provide an orientation, plenty of training, networking opportunities, and ongoing supervision. It’s best to use the internship to expose the newcomer to as many aspects of the business as they seem interested in or have shown a talent for.

5. Evaluate Your Internship Program

If you plan to use your new internship program to drive hiring, use evaluations from managers to assess whether the intern would be a good match. After the internship, be sure to maintain contact. Make your job offer as soon as possible, since many of today’s students receive multiple job offers upon graduation. High-performing interns should automatically be considered for new unheard of and it’s not unheard-of to create new positions for just the right fit.

Learn More Expert Hiring and Management Advice

Whether you’re curious about how to create an internship program, actively searching for good interns, or just looking to hire a new employee with solid internship experience, Monster’s expert advice and hiring tips can help.

This article is not intended as a substitute for professional legal advice. Always seek the professional advice of an attorney regarding any legal questions you may have.